As the nominees for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2018 are being decided, myself and the team at The Hepworth Wakefield have been reflecting on our year as Museum of the Year, one of the most successful to date for the gallery, writes SIMON WALLIS, DIRECTOR OF THE HEPWORTH WAKEFIELD.
The prestigious award was won by The Hepworth Wakefield in part because of the significant audience growth we had achieved in 2016, the gallery’s fifth anniversary year. However, in 2017/18 the gallery attracted 250,000 visitors, a massive 22 per cent increase on the previous financial year.
The most significant growth has come from first time visitors or people who hadn’t visited in over a year, bringing in more tourists to spend money and time in Wakefield.
n a climate of declining visitor numbers to museums and galleries in London, we work hard and successfully to find innovative ways to broaden our audiences and encourage new visitors.
We succeed through our friendly welcoming staff who help people engage with a popular mix of major temporary art exhibitions, family workshops, thriving art and craft fairs and markets, our growing art collection, and our new food and drink offer.
We’ve become a valued social hub in the city and region where different generations can come to socialise, experience great art and learn.
The Hepworth Wakefield has also built stronger connections with our local communities through new initiatives to engage the Wakefield district such as School Prints, a scheme that revives a 1940s project of the same name, that aims to bring contemporary art into local schools.
After commissioning six contemporary artists to create prints for schools, we have been running workshops with school children in Wakefield to produce cross-curricular responses such as creative writing.
The impact of the project has been inspiring as it has seen students who one year ago were unable to speak English or suffered with special needs creating poetry in response to the prints.
The students then went onto read their poems aloud at a public event at the gallery back in March.
We’ve also played a major part in the Culture Cures scheme, an initiative with Wakefield Council that saw us working with five other arts organisations in the district to run a series of health and wellbeing projects to address specific issues such as social isolation and school readiness in the local community.
The success of these projects was celebrated through three days of creative engagement activities held in Airedale, Havercroft and Ryhill and Lupset.
Winning Art Fund Museum of the Year has undoubtedly helped introduce us to new audiences and encouraged those who have long been meaning to visit to finally make the trip.
We’ve exciting plans for the wider development of our riverside site and some inspiring exhibitions planned for the rest of 2018.
We won Museum of the Year in 2017 but we work to be Museum of the Year every year and we’re now open seven days a week due to popular demand.
We’re very proud to be another Wakefield success story while being a recognised beacon of cultural excellence for the rest of the country.
If you’ve yet to visit, the gallery is open daily 10am – 5pm and entry is free.