Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Young V&A wins Museum of the Year award

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The Young V&A in east London has won the prestigious Museum of the Year award, fighting off competition from the National Portrait Gallery to win the £120,000 prize.

Judges described the museum as a “truly inspirational” institution that engaged with the local community of Bethnal Green and radically rethought the museum with young people in mind.

Jenny Waldman, the director of Art Fund, said: “The Young V&A has done something completely rare, it’s completely reimagined the museum. It started with its target audience and then it fit all the pieces of the museum – the building, the collection, display, interpretation, exhibitions, learning – around that central focus of young people. It’s the world’s most joyful museum.”

Its previous incarnation as the Museum of Childhood was described as “a place where childhood went to die”, inhabited by rows of Victorian doll’s houses that were designed for older visitors to “take a trip down memory lane”.

The renovated building, which had a three-year makeover at a cost of £13m, was a different proposition all together: light, airy and playful or, as the Observer called it, “serious and playful at once, sophisticated and direct”.

Waldman said that, even on an incredibly impressive shortlist, the Young V&A stood out with ideas such as, in the 0-5 years area, the curators grouped items together by colour to be more accessible to young minds.

“It’s mind-blowing, a brilliant concept perfectly executed,” she said.

The Young V&A was among a shortlist of institutions which had undergone extensive renovations in the last few years.

The National Portrait Gallery’s £41.3m makeover, which took three years and included Tracey Emin-commissioned doors that serve as the new entrance, was in the running, as was the Manchester Museum, which reopened after a £15m refit in 2022 and included a new South Asian gallery. A partnership with the British Museum, it was co-curated by 31 people from Manchester’s South Asian diaspora – who were “just ordinary folk, not museum folk”, according to its director, Esme Ward.

There were also nominations for Dundee Contemporary Arts in its 25th year, and the tiny Craven Museum in Skipton that was helped by a local authority that increased its funding rather than cutting, which has been the pattern around much of the UK.

Before the shortlist was announced, Waldman called for greater financial support for the museum sector, telling the Sunday Times that investment in museums was “contracting in a very worrying way”.

“Museums, local authorities and the national government all need to think together about how to empower museums to create the conditions for people and communities to thrive,” Waldman said. “Museums are absolutely up for it, they’re already doing incredible work.”

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The new culture secretary, Lisa Nandy, said: This year’s Art Fund Museum of the Year was a tough competition with an exciting shortlist representing institutions from across the country. Congratulations to the Young V&A on this achievement, recognising their hard work to create a unique space dedicated to young people.”

The Young V&A opened a year ago, and is part of the Victoria and Albert Museum empire, along with London’s V&A in South Kensington, plus outposts in Dundee and another at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London, which is due to open next year with an inaugural exhibition about Black British music.

The new Young V&A contained architectural references pulling from postmodernist architects Hans Hollein and Michael Graves, while the renovation was the work of two different architectural practices: De Matos Ryan and AOC.

For a project located in the heart of east London’s Bethnal Green, the architects consulted children from the nearby Bangabandhu and Globe primary schools and Morpeth secondary school for their ideas.

The result was a fun, colourful and tactile space that one critic said had become one of “London’s great indoor public spaces, a British Museum great court ruled by the under-15s”.

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