UK Museum of the Year: Manchester’s Whitworth scoops prize

The largest arts award in Britain and the biggest museum prize in the world has gone to Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery.

It had a Valentine’s Day opening earlier this year that has seen hundreds of thousands flock through its doors since the “Fall in love again” themed weekend. Although it had mixed reviews from the public, the new space offered a lot more than just art.

Now, the Oxford Road gallery has been named as Museum of the Year 2015 – the £100,000 prize – following a £15m overhaul project that led to record visitor numbers to the art gallery. The 16 month wait during its transformation was worth it after all.

The expansion project has “unlocked the potential” of the building, Whitworth director Dr Maria Balshaw said, as she accepted the award presented by novelist Ben Okri.

If anyone needed anymore confirmation that Manchester is the cultural capital of the UK, then perhaps take this as further evidence. Judges for the £100,000 Art Fund prize said the Whitworth had “cemented its place as the centre of the cultural national stage”.

The director of the Art Fund, Stephen Deuchar, who chaired the judges, said: “The transformation of the Whitworth – architecturally, curatorially, and as a destination – has been one of the great museum achievements of recent years.”

Since reopening, the 125-year-old gallery has undertaken larger and more ambitious projects, presentations and exhibitions, such as a critically-acclaimed solo exhibition by one of Britain’s celebrated contemporary artists, Cornelia Parker.

Having been one of six finalists chosen by the panel of judges, The Whitworth scooped the prize from the others who included: Dunham Massey (National Trust), Altrincham; IWM London; the MAC, Belfast; Oxford University Museum of National History; HM Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces).

In her acceptance speech, Dr Balshaw revealed that 210,000 people had visited the Whitworth since its relaunch, a leap of about 30,000 annual visitors from the previous building’s numbers.

The judging panel praised The Whitworth’s “visionary team” who they described as being “committed as much to the needs of the local community as to the celebration of international artists”.

Back in February, Dr Balshaw had said the gallery should understand that the local people need a public space that not only offers art, but a space that engages with its public, connects the building and surrounding park to create openness and invitation.

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