Scapa Flow Museum on the impact of being an Art Fund Museum of the Year 2023 finalist
Chris Andrews, Islands Digital Collections and Heritage Officer, from Scapa Flow Museum reflects on their experience of being shortlisted for the prize in 2023.
Initially, we had internal discussions about whether we should go for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2023 or not, as we felt that we may be a small fish in an ocean of behemoths and that our application would fall into insignificance. But we were encouraged to take the leap by one of our colleagues on the build team, and are infinitely grateful to them, as without that push we wouldn’t have been able to achieve even a quarter of the recognition we now have.
One day early in 2023, I heard an elated scream come from our curator’s office. I rushed in to find her barely controlling her excitement, explaining we had been shortlisted. I think it’s safe to say at that point we didn’t realise the scale of what we'd got ourselves in for, but for me, it has been one of the best experiences in my career. I can wholly recommend that for any institution, large or small, it is worth going for.
Scapa Flow Museum is a small museum situated on the sparsely populated island of Hoy, but yet millions of people, whether they know it or not, can draw a connection to the area. The museum aims to showcase the importance of wartime Orkney and the internationally important events that originated from Scapa Flow, and the experiences of those who lived or served here during that time.
It was important to us that we get the local community involved during our redevelopment and this took the form of working with North Walls Primary School on a ‘Junior Curators’ programme which all participants threw themselves into with great enthusiasm, and we can’t thank everyone who was involved enough.
The impact of being a finalist really can’t be overstated. Being featured in national media has generated a huge interest in the museum. Conveniently, we had launched a new website not long before the announcement and it really meant we started off with a bang, drawing huge numbers to the site and leading to us having over 3,000 people on our newsletter mailing list.
Anecdotally, being a finalist has boosted our visitor numbers by approximately 50%, which is fantastic given our location. We think it’ll have a continued legacy next season too, as coming here tends to take a bit more planning, so we hope to be on many visitors’ itineraries for 2024.
Orkney being an archipelago, it feels like there can be a barrier to the wider museum world, but being shortlisted has shattered that idea. Following the award ceremony, we very quickly established a relationship with The Burrell Collection and Glasgow Life. As a fellow Scottish museum, it felt important to foster a partnership with them. After a quick meeting, we had an itinerary for a visit, and were generously offered free flights from Loganair. Just like that, we were flying down, on our way to Glasgow.
We had an inspirational tour of The Burrell and were captivated by their approach to the redevelopment and their incredible design philosophy. From their leading-edge digital displays and community engagement, it has given us a lot to think about going forward. We were also fortunate enough to be given guided tours of some of their other sites, such as The Riverside Museum and Glasgow Museums Resources Centre, which will help inform our decisions as we progress with future projects. We can’t say thank you enough to the Burrell and the wider team at Glasgow Life for giving up their time to afford us this invaluable experience. I’m sure we’ll continue working together going forward.
Being a part of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2023 truly has been an honour. Along with our visit to The Burrell, it has inspired us to be ambitious with our work going forward and to use the knowledge we’ve gained through partnerships with other institutions to achieve our goals.
Scapa Flow Museum was a finalist for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2023.
Thank you to Loganair for supporting Scapa Flow Museum’s research trip to Glasgow.
Could your organisation be Art Fund Museum of the Year 2024? Applications are now open for the 2024 prize. More information on how to apply is available here.
2023 marked 10 years of Art Fund Museum of the Year - read the findings of new research that looks back at the impact of the prize, and forward to the challenges and opportunities of the coming decade.