Museum of the Year – the Judges’ Choice.

OK. They chose the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and that’s fine. It’s undeniably an amazing place and undeniably world class.

But I can’t help feeling they’ve missed a trick. ‘Museum of the Year 2014’ – why? It’s been around for some years now – growing, admittedly, and, I’m sure, improving year on year but what makes it so special this year?

It’s also well established and, rightly, attracts visitors from across the country and abroad and I would like to see the Art Fund doing more to highlight the work of those smaller, local museums and galleries, generally run by over-stretched, not-well-paid but incredibly dedicated staff and/or equally dedicated volunteers.

Anyone who has visited some of the smaller, local museums in the USA knows that this in one area in which we are streets ahead. We have some beautifully presented local museums and art galleries, making innovative use of modern techniques to display and engage us in the past history – and present achievements – of their particular community.

Museums which, thirty years ago, exhibited glass cases stuffed with bits of rock behind faded labels, a few photos of old buildings and a random donated mangle , between walls hung with poorly executed portraits of Sir Somebody Something, Lord of the Manor in 1614, have changed beyond belief. Now they are welcoming, uncluttered places, where you are drawn in to learn and enjoy by seeing, listening and doing. Places you want to come back to. Places to bring your children.

Visit, for example, the tiny museum in Ware, where you not only learn about the geology and history of this ancient town but can experience life there in the Second World War, with ration cards and posters, an air raid shelter, the home guard log of incidents and much more – including clothing, complete with instruction cards on forgotten skills like darning. Or Falmouth Art Gallery (a Finalist some years ago) where, below paintings by Hemy, Tuke, Jamieson and other artists of the Falmouth School you will, several days a week, find noisy groups of children creating art works of their own – some of which are then framed and hung on the walls.

So yes, I am disappointed in the Art Fund for not short-listing more of these small, local museums. Four of the six on this year’s short list are already firmly established on the tourist map. They are also – although I’m sure their directors will all disagree with me – well funded.

What a difference £100,000 would have made to a museum like Ditchling! And what an education their new visitors would get.



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