Museum of the Year 2015: Judges' comments

  • Published 9 July 2015

The Whitworth was crowned Museum of the Year last week, but our judging panel was impressed by all six finalists – here are their comments.

Dunham Massey (National Trust), Altrincham

The judges agreed that what had been achieved through the creation and presentation of Sanctuary from the Trenches at Dunham Massey was both special and brave, and had resulted in a pioneering model that might now serve as a template for other National Trust properties. By temporarily stripping out the traditional treasures of the house, they uncovered greater treasures still: this uncompromising decision resulted in a wonderfully moving, enlightening and wholly fitting tribute to the kindness and courage of the house’s former occupants. The talents and creativity of Dunham Massey’s team lie at the heart of this period of remarkable success, and promise still greater accomplishments to come.

IWM London

In 2014, through the vibrant First World War Centenary programme, the IWM London was a national leader and high performer – not least for the architectural reworking of the iconic atrium space, the opening of the superb new First World War galleries, and the launch of the groundbreaking Lives of the First World War project. The judges were highly impressed with the quality of everything they witnessed at the museum, and the vital work IWM London has done, and is doing, to pay tribute to the eight million men and women who served on the home and fighting fronts. IWM London is a national institution playing impressively on the international stage; its steps forward on all fronts in 2014 were impressive to behold.

The MAC, Belfast

The judges were entranced and astonished by the MAC, a striking addition to Belfast, which had transformed the Cathedral Quarter, lifting its eyes to the wider horizon. The ambitious curatorial programme was of the highest quality, looking internationally, while also supporting the talent of homegrown artists. Although only two years old, the MAC has clearly won the heart of its visitors, a remarkable place to call their own that isn’t associated with Belfast’s troubled past, but where instead they can come and create something new and inspiring for themselves. The judges look forward to the next stage in the lifetime of this new creative powerhouse, confident that there are only greater things to come.

HM Tower of London

In 2014 Historic Royal Palaces captured the force of the public imagination by presenting the defining work of public art marking the First World War centenary, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. The judges noted the astonishing achievement of this project – from the leap of faith in commissioning the work, to the organisational feat in its delivery, culminating as the poppies themselves were distributed globally, raising funds for servicemen and women. Through the project HM Tower of London had taken bold steps in engaging with new audiences, and re-imagining what might be possible on its centuries-old sites. The judges looked forward to seeing what the impact of this game-changing endeavour would be across Historic Royal Palaces, and what brave innovations might now follow.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

The judges agreed that the recent refurbishment of Oxford University Museum of Natural History was a triumph. The presentation of serious scientific research via eclectic and visually arresting displays, in an architecturally beautiful space, had been achieved with complete success. While closed, and then in reopening, the museum brought a beloved and weighty subject to the widest possible public, demonstrating imagination, versatility and creativity along the way – and brought to bear via its dynamic and perfectly formed team.

The Whitworth, Manchester – winner of Museum of the Year 2015

The judges agreed that the transformation of the Whitworth – architecturally, curatorially, and as a destination – has been one of the great museum achievements of recent years. The Whitworth, part of the University of Manchester, is an adventurous institution that has cemented its place at the centre of the cultural national stage. Through its impressive £15m reinvention, the Whitworth has redefined the way that it engages with its public, connecting the building and surrounding park to create a space with a sense of openness and invitation. The appeal of the newly developed building (designed by architects MUMA), combined with the creativity and originality of its outreach programmes during closure, resulted in record-breaking visitor figures following its reopening. From the director Maria Balshaw to the cultural park keeper, the Whitworth is led by a visionary team committed as much to the needs of the local community as to the celebration of international artists. Both boldly modern and steeped in Manchester’s urban and academic history, it has established its place at the very heart of the city. For in a wider sense the Whitworth has changed the cultural landscape: it truly feels like a museum of the future.

Tags: Museums and galleriesmuseum-of-the-year