The Art Fund awards the Museum of the Year prize annually to one outstanding museum, which, in the opinion of the judges, has shown exceptional imagination, innovation and achievement. The prize of £100,000 is given at an awards dinner, before an invited audience of the UK’s museum and cultural leaders, which this year will take place at the Natural History Museum in London on Wednesday 6 July 2016.
Victoria Northwood, Director of Bethlem Museum of the Mind, said, “Being selected as a Museum of the Year 2016 finalist caps a magnificent year for us at Bethlem; we’ve moved from a cramped portakabin to a fine art deco building, launched the new Museum to great acclaim and are now welcoming four times as many visitors as we did before. Inviting people to step beyond gates of a psychiatric hospital is not always the easiest of propositions but with every person that comes into our beautiful grounds and into the Museum, the stigma surrounding mental illness is reduced. The Museum offers a vital opportunity to explore and consider the history of mental healthcare and treatment. Making the Museum of the Year shortlist is a tribute to every person who worked to create the new Museum, as well as the artists – current and former Bethlem patients – whose work we are proud to display.”
Themed gallery spaces explore the reasons why people arrive at Bethlem, aiming to inspire discussion, debate and reflection on mental health issues which are as relevant today as they were in the past. The Museum houses significant art and historical artefacts, as well as works by current artists and hospital service users.
Bethlem Museum has occupied a small building on the site for 40 years, while Bethlem Gallery has been on site for the past 17 years, as part of the hospital’s Occupational Therapy department. Over this time, both organisations have gained a reputation for excellence in the field of arts in health. Now they are under one roof, bringing together their specific areas of expertise to curate exhibitions informed and enlivened by the collection and archives and new perspectives from artists and patients of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM).