This morning, despite a colossal downpour in central London, I whistled my way into work following the announcement last night that the British Museum had won the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2011.
The reason was this project - A History of the World. A two-million-year history of humanity on air, online and on display in partnership with the BBC and over 500 museums, galleries and heritage sites across the UK.
The Art Fund judges made their choice (from hundreds of entries, a long-list of 10, and then a shortlist of four) – according to broadcaster and former MP, Michael Portillo – because of:
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.
His words are certainly very flattering and describe the broadness of this project: a 100-part radio series; physical displays, and of course this website where listeners could explore the British Museum objects, download podcasts of the series and discover the thousands of objects uploaded by museums, galleries, and individuals.
Speaking today, Neil MacGregor, the Museum Director, explained that the prize rewards the hard work of the entire Museum, but also the work of all those other museums who made the project what it is:
It is the first time a national museum has won the prize, and it is truly a prize for the whole Museum, as everybody contributed to making the project such a success.
The prize is £100,000. We shall use it for a series of Spotlight Tours, lending star British Museum objects around England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This seems appropriate as A History of the World involved 550 heritage partners, from Shetland to the Scilly Isles, who worked hand in hand with the BBC to explore global stories through museum collections of every complexion.
So, in truth, it’s not just the British Museum that can now proudly call itself Museum of the Year, it’s 550 museums, galleries and heritage sites – not to mention the many thousands of individuals who shared their objects and stories with us on this website.