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Firstsite in Colchester announced as Art Fund Museum of the Year

Image: Firstsite — Rodger Tamblyn / Alamy Stock Photo

Contemporary visual arts organisation, Firstsite in Colchester has been named Art Fund Museum of the Year and received £100,000 in prize money.

Sally Shaw, Director of Firstsite picked up the award at a ceremony that took place on Tuesday night in the Making of the Modern World Gallery at the Science Museum.

The Art Fund Museum of the Year is the world’s largest museum prize and is a celebration of the UK’s museums and galleries.

Resilience and imagination

This year the prize reflected the resilience and imagination of museums throughout the pandemic. The Firstsite gallery which celebrates its tenth year in 2021 was commended for its exceptional achievements which included its online presence, engagement with its communities and providing free school meals during the pandemic.

The judges present the prize to the museum or gallery that has shown how their achievements of the preceding year stand out, what makes their work innovative, and the impact it has had on audiences.

Firstsite initiatives

In response to Black Lives Matter, Firstsite commissioned Elsa James to make a downloadable work in solidarity and continued the Super Black festival celebrating black culture in Essex. Other significant initiatives have included My name is not Refugee, an Arts Council Collection exhibition curated by clients of Refugee Action Colchester, and Art For Life, an exhibition commissioned by the NHS with key workers to aid understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on mental health.

Art Fund has supported Museum of the Year since 2008. Its forerunner was the Prize for Museums and Galleries, administered by the Museum Prize Trust and sponsored by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation from 2003-2007.

“From inspiring everyone to turn their windows into a nationwide gallery during lockdown to feeding local kids in the school holidays, they are an outstanding example of innovation and integrity,” said Jenny Waldman, Art Fund director and chair of the judges.

Powerful, engaged contemporary art

“At their core is powerful, engaged contemporary art, housed in a gallery that gives space for everyone, from artists to NHS staff to local families and refugee groups. They exceeded all our expectations. Here is a small organisation thinking big and caring for their local community. Here is excellence in Essex.”

The judges, who visited each of the shortlisted museums, also included Maria Balshaw, Director of Tate, Edith Bowman, radio broadcaster, podcast host and television presenter, Katrina Brown Founding Director of The Common Guild, Suhair Khan lead on strategy at Google and artist Thomas J Price.

The other four shortlisted museums will each receive £15,000. They are:

  • Centre for Contemporary Art Derry/Londonderry
  • Experience Barnsley
  • The Thackray Museum of Medicine Leeds
  • Timespan Helmsdale, Scottish Highlands

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