Getting to know: The Hepworth Wakefield

  • Published 8 May 2017

Find out more about the five Art Fund Museum of the Year finalists for 2017. First up, The Hepworth Wakefield talks turning five, the Yorkshire landscape and wearable sculptures.


We know it's rude to ask, but how old are you?

Five and three quarters. I’ll be celebrating my 6th birthday on 21 May. I had a big birthday party weekend when I turned five with all sorts of wonderful performances and activities, and a birthday cake baked by Great British Bake-Off winner, Frances Quinn, which was very special, so it’ll be more low-key this year.

If we were to ask you to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Inspiring, welcoming, ambitious.

Art Fund Museum of the Year finalists come in all shapes and sizes and from far and wide. Tell us something interesting about where you live?

I was designed by Sir David Chipperfield and sit in a dramatic setting overlooking the River Calder in Wakefield, in the heart of Yorkshire. Two giants of British art were born nearby – Henry Moore (b. Castleford 1898) and Barbara Hepworth (b. Wakefield 1903). Both artists had a deep connection with the Yorkshire landscape and referred to it as a source of inspiration throughout their careers. I’m in good company, as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is only 15 minutes’ drive away, the National Coal Mining Museum isn’t far, and we have our own National Trust Property in Nostell Priory.

In a very exciting year for you, what has been the highlight (apart from being shortlisted, of course)?

The award dinner for the Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. It was so exciting to see so many significant and talented artists, as well as figures from the British art world and other celebrities, including Christopher Bailey of Burberry, in Wakefield to experience the exhibition and celebrate my new art prize. It felt like a very special moment, as if the world was looking at Yorkshire to set the agenda for contemporary sculpture.

What is your most treasured possession?

The unique collection housed here, which the talented staff are constantly finding ever more creative and inspiring ways to present and grow. It includes the full-scale model for Barbara Hepworth’s Winged Figure, which adorns the John Lewis building on Oxford Street in London; Hepworth’s own workbench and tools; and major art works by many great artists including Frank Auerbach, Henry Moore and Martin Parr.

Before visitors leave, name one thing you're keen for them to have experienced?

The full Hepworth Wakefield welcome, provided by the friendly and knowledgeable Visitor Experience team: it ensures people are inspired and intrigued by the art that they’ve seen, so they want to return regularly.

Children are the future of museums. What do younger visitors most enjoy when they come to see you?

Children can have a great time here as I offer a huge range of free creative activities inspired by the works of art on display – from soap carving, to shaping metal, print-making, photography and creating their own wearable sculptures. There are creative stations in my galleries with art materials that anyone is welcome to use, three dedicated learning studios and even our own playground.

If you had to name one thing, what are you most proud of?

The numbers and variety of people who come to visit me. It far exceeds the original estimate that was expected and makes me feel proud that so many people from different walks of life have been compelled to visit and experience the regularly changing exhibitions and my amazing David Chipperfield design, right here in Wakefield.

If Barbara Hepworth could see you now, what do you think would please her the most?

That the power of her work remains as relevant today as when it was first created, and that it continues to move and inspire so many people.

You’ve had a fantastic 2016 and are in the running for Art Fund Museum of the Year. What are you looking forward to next?

The development of the wider waterfront site where I am located. Internationally celebrated garden designer, Tom Stuart-Smith, has been chosen to transform the grassed area adjacent into a beautiful, free public garden for the residents of Wakefield and visitors to the gallery to enjoy. The team are working hard to raise the funds needed to do this, but when complete it will enable me to expand my programme outdoors and encourage even more people to come and visit and experience art.

So. July 5th. You hear your name read out… What would you do if you won?

Celebrate wildly, at my director’s expense, with all the dedicated staff and trustees, our loyal members and patrons and many other supporters and visitors who have made me what I am today. It would more than make up for not having a 6th birthday party thrown for me!

This year we're asking visitors to the five finalists to share their best museum stories, reviews, photos, memories and moments on social media using #museumoftheyear.

Find out more about the prize, the history, the judges and this year's finalists at Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017.

Tags: museum-of-the-year