The Hepworth Wakefield celebrates its first birthday this weekend.
And it could not wish for a better gift.
This week the £35m gallery has welcomed its 500,000th visitor and been announced as one of only four finalists shortlisted to win the coveted £100,000 Art Fund Prize to become ‘museum of the year’.
Director Simon Wallis said: “The Hepworth has really put Wakefield on the map.
“We’ve had so many more visitors than I thought possible and now to be shortlisted for the incredibly prestigious art fund prize – it’s really been a terrific first year.
“The real highlight for us has been the people coming here and spending time with their families and coming back several times over.
“That’s what’s given us this great number of visitors.
“Visitor figures matter but what also matters is how much time people spend here. It’s so heartening that vast majority of visitors spend two hours here.
“They are obviously finding something of meaning and worth.”
If the Hepworth wins the prize Mr Wallis intends to spend the money to provide wider access to the collection through education programmes and outreach work and by providing more family-friendly facilities, particularly at weekends
He added: “We’d like to employ more staff to ensure that the free access to great quality education work can be done on a regular basis. We also want to digitise the collection to make sure all the new digital technology is available to give people wider access.”
When asked what the future held for the gallery Mr Wallis said: “Really it’s about building on the strengths and widening the audience we’ve created and working in greater and closer partnership with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. This will be a really wonderful way to make sure that everyone knows Wakefield is one of the most important places to visit, particularly if you’re interested in sculpture.”
The Hepworth Wakefield is in the top three most visited art galleries outside of London and is the UK’s most successful purpose-built gallery.
It has already provided a huge boost for the local economy.
The 500,000 visitors to the gallery so far will have generated an estimated £10m of income for the local economy, with money being spent in local shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs, other attractions and hotels.
Coun Peter Box, leader of Wakefield Council said: “It’s great to see the gallery become such a success and along with Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Henry Moore Institute put Yorkshire on the map as a new world centre for sculpture.”