Museum inspired by community campaign scoops £100,000 Art Fund Prize

  • 23 May 2008

The Lightbox museum and gallery in Woking has been awarded The Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries, the UK's largest single arts prize.

A genuine example of grassroots action - the museum was initiated by local people -
The Lightbox mixes local history, the visual arts and inspiring architecture. Situated in the centre of Woking, it has become the creative hub of this busy Surrey commuter town, bringing a sense of self-worth and excitement to the local community.

Designed by the architects behind the London Eye, Marks Barfield Architects, The Lightbox has two of the most exciting gallery spaces in the South East. Based on the principle of continually offering local residents something new, these are used to host an ambitious programme of exhibitions, changing monthly, which include contemporary art by local and nationally famous artists, and loans from major museums and galleries in the UK and overseas. The Lightbox is also home to Woking's Story, a permanent display which explores the town’s fascinating history from the 19th century to the present day.

In 1993, a group of 70 determined locals campaigned to open a museum and gallery for their town. Fifteen years and £7 million later, they realised their dream, creating a new public space that has been hailed as an ‘ingenious jewel’. Over 10,000 members of the public gave something to The Lightbox: their handprint for a public art project, treasured family possessions for the collection or a financial donation.

Chair of the Judges, Sue MacGregor, comments: ‘It was a difficult final choice for the judges, but in the end we went for something novel, brave and full of delights. Woking in Surrey may sound a slightly unlikely place for a brand new museum, but we were instantly impressed by the Lightbox: by the fine design of the building itself, by its international and local collections, and by the general air of enthusiasm and professional attention to detail shown by the staff and its many volunteers. The combination in the end was truly irresistible.’

Among the options The Lightbox is considering for using its £100,000 prize are an art commission and a semi-permanent structure for their canal-side courtyard, extending their exhibition and event space and further developing the visitor accessibility of their venue.

Marylin Scott, Director of The Lightbox, comments: “Winning is beyond our wildest dreams - we are such a new gallery and museum. But it is incredible how much of an impact The Lightbox has had on the local community and the wider south east in such a short time. We are so grateful to all our funders, supporters and volunteers for helping us win the prize and grateful to The Art Fund for all their fantastic support.”

David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, comments: “The Lightbox’s success testifies to the enormous energy of the local people who were determined to create this spectacular new museum and gallery in Woking. The competition was very strong and it can’t have been an easy decision for the judges, but Woking’s extraordinary achievement makes The Lightbox a very worthy winner.”

The Lightbox was selected as winner from a short list of four museums. The other short-listed museums and galleries were: London’s £30 million treasure trove, the Wellcome Collection; the Bristol based British Empire and Commonwealth Museum for its slavery exhibition ‘Breaking the Chains’ and the UK’s most northerly museum, Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick.

The Prize is judged by an independent panel, which this year comprised:
- Sue MacGregor CBE (Chair), broadcaster
- Keith Khan, Executive Artist for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games
- Diane Lees, Director of the V&A Museum of Childhood and Director Designate of the Imperial War Museum
- Christopher Lloyd CVO, former Surveyor of The Queen’s Pictures
- Dr Mark Miodownik, Head of Materials Research Group, King’s College London
- Maggie Semple OBE, Chief Executive of The Experience Corps Ltd

The Art Fund Prize (formerly The Gulbenkian Prize) is open to all Registered museums and galleries in the UK. As well as celebrating excellence, it is also intended to increase public appreciation and enjoyment of all these museums and galleries have to offer.

Last year’s winner was Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. Previous winners include Brunel’s ss Great Britain in Bristol (2006), Big Pit: National Mining Museum of Wales, Blaenafon (2005), The Scottish Gallery of Modern Art for Landform - part sculpture, part garden, part land-art - by Charles Jencks (2004), and the National Centre for Citizenship and the Law at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham (2003).

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