HMS Caroline, the World War One light cruiser docked in Belfast since 1924 and which reopened as a museum following an £18m restoration has been selected as one of five finalists for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2019, regarded as the most prestigious museum prize in the world. The annual award celebrates innovation and exceptional achievement in museums and galleries across the UK.
The other four museums shortlisted for the title are Nottingham Contemporary; Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford; St Fagan’s National Museum of History, Cardiff; and V&A Dundee.
The winning museum, which will receive £100,000, will be announced at a ceremony at the Science Museum, London, on Wednesday 3 July 2019. The other shortlisted museums will receive £10,000 each in recognition of their achievements. This year’s judging panel for the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2018 award, chaired by Stephen Deuchar, Director of Art Fund, are David Batchelor, artist; Brenda Emmanus, broadcaster and journalist; Bridget McConnell, Chief Executive, Glasgow Life; Bill Sherman, Director, Warburg Institute
HMS Caroline is the last remaining floating survivor of the Battle of Jutland in which the German Imperial Fleet clashed with the British Grand Fleet in what would be the last great naval battle in the world. HMS Caroline was brought to Belfast shortly after the partition of Ireland and is an intrinsic part of Northern Ireland’s historic fabric. The National Museum of the Royal Navy stepped in to save the ship from scrapping in 2011, secured a major grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and support from the Northern Ireland government to restore the ship and open to the public in time for the centenary of Jutland on May 31 2016.
Since then it has become a venue for lectures on Ireland’s shared history as well as a memorial for the 10,000 Irishmen who lost their lives at sea during the Great War. It is also the centre of much community outreach work aimed at groups from all sides of the divide.
Restoration project director and The National Museum of the Royal Navy Chief of Staff Captain John Rees OBE says the ship’s restoration now provides a shared and neutral space for communities to learn about their shared history.
“It is also a magnificent museum which reveals the human side of World War One, how life at sea during conflict was experienced and the impact of this on later generations,” he says. “HMS Caroline has also become a platform for dramatic art productions, cinema screenings and other engaging activities bringing some much-needed regeneration to this docks area of Belfast.”
Speaking on behalf of the judges, Stephen Deuchar said: “The five shortlisted museums have each offered outstanding and different approaches to the vital task of engaging with the widest public in new and adventurous ways. We congratulate all those who are on the shortlist and encourage everyone to go and visit them.”
This year Art Fund is asking visitors to the five finalists to share their best museum stories, reviews, photos, memories and moments on Twitter using @artfund #museumoftheyear