Art Fund Museum of Year 2021 will reward museums' resilience and imagination during pandemic year

As the call for applications opens, Art Fund director Jenny Waldman outlines the ambition for this year's prize, in what's been one of the most challenging ever periods for the UK's cultural sector.

Museums have faced their greatest challenge in living memory during the pandemic. The shutters were down for most of the last year and, while hope is on the horizon and museums around the UK are beginning to reopen, there remains great uncertainty. Our beloved institutions are not yet out of the woods.

Nonetheless, who could fail to have been struck by how museums have found new ways to serve their communities? They have shown creativity and resilience, and their efforts have been nothing short of heroic. Local ties have been strengthened through imaginative programmes, while global audience reach has grown during lockdown. Collections, and even whole exhibitions, have been shared digitally in ways we would not have thought possible a year ago. And museums have continued to be a powerful voice at the forefront of debate.

Marking these achievements has never felt more important. Art Fund Museum of the Year gives us an opportunity to make sure, amidst the clamour of so much other news, that museums, the stories they tell and the role they play, can be widely appreciated.

Over the year, Art Fund has been in constant dialogue with colleagues in museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK. We know that getting ready to reopen – ensuring a safe environment for visitors and staff, rearranging exhibition schedules, getting collections ready for display, installing new ticketing systems – has taken epic feats of planning. We know from our own research too, that it has taken huge resource just to keep the plates spinning and that sadly, through no fault of their own, some institutions are very much in emergency mode.

That’s why we wanted to make the application process for the prize simpler this year. We'll be asking applicants just three short questions:

  • What did you do in the last year which showed imagination and determination?

  • How did this make a difference?

  • How will you build on this in the future?

For the first time, we will ask a longlist of museums to come and present their applications to the judges, so the panel can select a shortlist informed by these first-hand conversations.

We want museums to apply whatever their scale and wherever they are located in the UK. We’ll be happy to accept applications from those forced by the pandemic to be unable to open for the entire year. If there is a story to be told about the difference a museum has made to its community, we want to hear it.

I know there are many millions who share with me the longing to visit again in person, to reconnect with the rich and varied histories that are told in these spaces and to be surrounded by the art and objects on display. As we look forward to enjoying these once familiar experiences again, I want Art Fund Museum of the Year to recognise and celebrate the journey that has got us here.

If your museum would like to apply for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2021 please find more information here

Are your sure you want to leave checkout?