UK Museum of the Year split between five winners including ‘repurposed nuclear bunker’

Qin Xie
·2-min read
The Science Museum in London was one of the 2020 winners (Getty Images)
The Science Museum in London was one of the 2020 winners (Getty Images)

The title of the 2020 UK Museum of the Year is split between five winners, Art Fund has announced.

The independent charity said that Aberdeen Art Gallery, Gairloch Museum in the Scottish Highlands, Science Museum in London, South London Gallery and Towner Eastbourne will be sharing the £200,000 prize equally.

The winning museums have been chosen because of their achievements during the period 2019-2020.

Aberdeen Art Gallery was praised for having “an exceptional collection of art and heritage” that’s “among the finest in the UK”.

In particular, the gallery went through an ambitious redevelopment project in 2019 that helped “completely re-imagine the gallery” by increasing the number of works on show from 380 to 1,080.

Gairloch Museum, housed in a repurposed nuclear bunker along the remote coastline of the Scottish Highlands since 2019, impressed judges by transforming “a village eyesore into an important visitor attraction”.

The community and 120 volunteers spent eight years and raised £2.4m to make their vision a reality.

The Science Museum in London is perhaps the most well known of the winners but it was its shift towards “thinking big, thinking local, and thinking radically” that clinched the prize for the institution.

Judges were excited by events such as Tim Peake’s spacecraft nationwide tour, a sleepover to mark the Apollo 11 anniversary and the opening of two new permanent galleries, which has turned the museum into “the world's leading destination for people to be excited, inspired and delighted by science”.

South London Gallery impressed judges with its “integrity, creativity and inspiring leadership” as it stayed true to its aim of bringing art to its culturally diverse community for over 125 years.

As well as a programme of exhibitions and events, and a free education programme, it also doubled in size in 2019, having taken over a neighbouring Fire Station and converted it into new gallery space.

Finally, Towner Eastbourne secured its place in the winners’ list with its commitment to transform communities through art, despite a funding cut.

In particular, its “genuine commitment to promoting under-represented artists in its programme” was noted for turning the art gallery into an “invaluable asset” to Eastbourne.

Jenny Waldman, director of Art Fund, said: “The winners are exceptional examples of museums offering inspiration, reflection and joy in the heart of communities.

“The UK’s museums – admired worldwide and vital locally – were thriving before Covid-19. They can help rebuild our communities and confidence as we emerge from the virus.

“But they face financial peril. Not only do we need sustained investment from government, but we encourage everyone to go and explore their local museum – they need our support now.”

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