British Museum scoops £100,000 Art Fund Prize

British Museum scoops £100,000 Art Fund Prize and is crowned ‘Museum of the Year’ for ‘A History of the World’

·         A History of the World wows judges with its global scope and intellectual rigour
·         Judges praise the way the project reached far beyond the museum’s walls, demonstrating pioneering use of digital for widespread public engagement
·         Winners of inaugural Clore Award for Museum Learning also announced tonight, under the wider umbrella of the Art Fund Prize

The Art Fund Prize annually awards £100,000 to a single museum or gallery for a project undertaken or completed the previous year that has wowed the judging panel through its excellence, originality and imagination.

A History of the World is an enormously successful project exploring world history through the British Museum’s unparalleled collection, initiated by the British Museum in partnership with the BBC.

At the heart of the initiative was a 100 part series on BBC Radio 4, A History of the World in a 100 Objects, telling a narrative global history through British Museum objects from two million years ago to the present day. To realise the project the British Museum, the BBC and over 550 museums across the country came together pulling on their individual strengths to serve the public in an ambitious partnership that captured the imaginations of millions across the globe.

Michael Portillo, Chair of the Judges, said: “We were particularly impressed by the truly global scope of the British Museum’s project, which combined intellectual rigour and open heartedness, and went far beyond the boundaries of the museum’s walls. Above all, we felt that this project, which showed a truly pioneering use of digital media, has led the way for museums to interact with their audiences in new and different ways. Without changing the core of the British Museum’s purpose, people have and are continuing to engage with objects in an innovative way as a consequence of this project.”


The Art Fund Prize judging panel comprises Michael Portillo, broadcaster and former Cabinet minister (Chair); Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE, theoretical physicist, author and broadcaster; Jeremy Deller, artist; Kathy Gee, museums and heritage consultant; Charlotte Higgins, journalist and author; Lars Tharp, Foundling Museum curator, broadcaster and Antiques Roadshow expert and Lola Young, Baroness Young of Hornsey, Independent Cross Bench peer and writer, cultural critic, public speaker and broadcaster.

The British Museum was among a short list of four, announced on 19 May. The other three contenders were:

The Polar Museum, University of Cambridge, for Promoting Britain’s Polar Heritage – a major renovation of the galleries and stores at the UK’s only museum dedicated to the Polar Regions, their science and exploration. The imaginative and comprehensive renovation has transformed both the way the unique collections are presented. The judges felt that visitors are taken from the scientific to the emotional in a simple and stunning manner that reflects the care and devotion of the small team.

The new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Scotland. This reinterpretation of a 10-acre multi-destination site and creation of a new museum to house the Robert Burns Collection has created a spiritual space that celebrates the life and work of the great poet. The judges felt this biographical literary museum coherently brings an intensely atmospheric experience together with sensitive and engaging handling of a literary archive. They also thought that the careful choice of display materials brings a very personal, human and contemporary perspective whilst also asserting Burns as a major literary figure.

The Roman Baths Museum, Bath, for Roman Baths Development, which has truly opened the historic site in a way that will ensure the museum flourishes as a leading 21st century tourist attraction. The Judges particularly enjoyed the very sophisticated use of space, glass and light throughout the site, highlighting the striking and unexpected views that allow visitors to be constantly surprised by new perspectives. They were impressed at the variety of interpretation and the use of technology, particularly the audio guides and digital reconstructions, to bring Roman culture to life.

This is the first time that a London-based national museum has won the prestigious, £100,000 accolade of ‘Museum of the Year’.

Clore Award for Museum Learning

This year, a new award has been added under the umbrella of the Art Fund Prize: the new £10,000 Clore Award for Museum Learning. The award recognises and celebrates quality, impact and innovation in using museums and galleries for learning activities and initiatives. The award is judged by a separate panel co-chaired by Dame Vivien Duffield DBE, Chairman of the Clore Duffield Foundation and Sally Bacon, the Foundation’s Director. They were joined by Cerrie Burnell, presenter on CBeebies, the BBC’s TV channel for under 6s; Gerard Kelly, Editor of The Times Educational Supplement; and Mark Taylor, Director of the Museums Association.

The Clore Award judges were so impressed by the outstanding quality of the finalists that they have selected joint winners for the inaugural year only and doubled the Prize money. The joint winners are the South London Gallery and a consortium of the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

The museums of the Oxford consortium applied jointly for their project Making Museums, in which school children design and make their own museums, from acquisition to exhibition, on the theme of celebrating their identities. The South London Gallery applied for its programme for Making Play – adventures in creative play through contemporary art, which involved the children living on a housing estate adjacent to the Gallery.