Wakefield art gallery awarded world's biggest museum prize
06 Jul 2017
Wakefield's Hepworth Gallery has been awarded the title of museum of the year following a year of “breathtaking” exhibitions, booming visitor numbers and the creation of an important award for contemporary sculpture.
The gallery which is based on Wakefield’s waterfront, on the banks of the River Calder is the second cultural asset in the district to win this prestigious award following the Yorkshire Sculpture Park receiving the same accolade in 2014.
Stephen Deuchar, the Art Fund director who chaired the judging panel commented: “The Hepworth Wakefield has been a powerful force of energy from the moment it opened in 2011, but it has just kept growing in reach and impact ever since. David Chipperfield’s building has proved a perfect stage – both for the display of collections and as a platform for a breathtaking sequence of special exhibitions, curated with determined originality by the talented curatorial team.
“The Hepworth serves its local community with unfailing flair and dedication and contributes centrally to regional tourism too, bringing 210,275 visitors in 2016, up 21% on the previous year,”
“For a town that faces the challenges it does to stick with its arts programme, to believe that the power of creativity really does lead to urban regeneration, is a pretty brave thing to do. The Hepworth has been successful in keeping the faith with the local authority.”
Simon Wallis, Director of the Hepworth commented during his acceptance speech: “This means so much to us. The invention and the energy that the team has brought year in year out to attract to a tough part of town. Wakefield has had its fair share of troubles but part of the reinvention of the city and part of our story is that we’re part of the team working to reinvent the city.
“As a museum we were central to the regeneration of Wakefield, that’s why we were created and that’s why we have thrived. I must give a special mention to Wakefield Council, local authorities are so often maligned for the work they do, but Wakefield Council were the originators of the Hepworth; it was their vision that got David Chipperfield to create that world class building in the city.
“Something very special is happening in our area of Yorkshire, in 2014 Yorkshire Sculpture Park won this same accolade; and we couldn’t have better neighbours. It really is a very special part of the country and I think that’s down to the people of Wakefield. Thank you to the people of Wakefield, I think we can all be rightly proud of the inventive change that keeps occurring there, culture led regeneration is working.”
Cllr Peter Box CBE, Leader of Wakefield Council and Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, commented: “Huge congratulations to The Hepworth Wakefield on winning this world renowned museum prize. The gallery is a very worthy winner and I am delighted that it has been recognised with this prestigious title.
“The Hepworth is a magnificent gallery and it brings hundreds of thousands of people into our city and district every year. It has helped put Wakefield firmly on the map as an important cultural destination and continues to inspire great pride in the district.
“I am proud of Wakefield’s outstanding contribution to the arts, with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park being awarded the same respected title in 2014. Both destinations have firmly established Wakefield as a major cultural and tourist destination as part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle.”
Finally speaking to the Art Newspaper at the award ceremony, the chair of the Hepworth, David Liddiment, attributed its success to the fact that over the past six years since it opened the gallery has stayed true to "The Plan". He said it has avoided being parochial while being proud of Wakefield and Yorkshire's artistic heritage. "We have a world-class building and bring world-class artists to Wakefield," he said, adding that it had "reclaimed" Barbara Hepworth from St Ives in Cornwall where she lived and worked as well as London.
Together with the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Leeds Art Gallery, the Hepworth has helped make Leeds City Region a world centre for sculpture.