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Press release

Brunel’s ss Great Britain wins Gulbenkian Prize

The ss Great Britain, the world’s first great ocean liner, has won the £100,000 Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries in this, Brunel’s bicentenary year.

The judges were united in their admiration for Brunel’s ss Great Britain, with one judge describing the impact of the magnificent preserved hull as “visual poetry”. The 35-year battle to preserve the world’s first iron ocean-going ship culminated in her triumphant re-launch in July last year. Now she sits in her birthplace, Bristol’s Great Western Dockyard, on a glass “sea” above a giant dehumidification system, designed to halt the rampant corrosion in her iron hull.
Above the water line, the ship has been brought to life with all the sights, sounds and smells of a pioneering voyage to Australia, from the spartan functionality of third class passenger berths through to the opulence of the First Class Ladies' Boudoir.
Alongside is the Dockyard Museum where imaginative displays chart the history of Brunel's masterpiece and the stories of those who sailed with her and rescued her.

Robert Winston, Chairman of the Gulbenkian judges, who made the winning announcement at a ceremony at the Royal Institute of British Architects this evening, comments,

“Each of our four short-listed museums and galleries could have been a deserving winner but ss Great Britain got our unanimous vote for being outstanding at every level. It combines a truly groundbreaking piece of conservation, remarkable engineering and fascinating social history plus a visually stunning ship above and below the water line. Most importantly, the ss Great Britain is accessible and highly engaging for people of all ages.”

The Gulbenkian Prize is given annually to one museum or gallery anywhere in the UK, regardless of its size or budget. The Gulbenkian Prize celebrates the innovative and excellent work taking place in museums and galleries today that is challenging traditional public perceptions of their role.

The restoration of the ss Great Britain cost £11.3 million and has so far been met by an £9.2 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £2.5 million from supporters and members. Now the ss Great Britain receives £100,000 and becomes for one year the holder of the Prize trophy - an enamelled silver bowl designed by award-winning metalwork artist, Vladimir Böhm. Her trustees plan to put the prize money towards rebuilding the forward masts and completing the presentation of the ship as launched in 1843.

The judges were full of praise for each of the short-listed museums. They felt The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire in Lincoln was a major new cultural asset for the City and County: a beautiful new building, presenting an imaginative conjunction of history and art, and conveying a powerful sense of the connections between people and place.

The renewal of the galleries at London’s Hunterian Museum was praised for its brave and imaginative presentation of what can be considered controversial material. At its heart is John Hunter’s own 18th century collection of medicine, natural history and art, brought together by the team at the Hunterian with “flair, commitment and belief” to create something that is far more than just a specialist surgical museum.

The judges felt the new Underground Gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield was a superb addition to this much-loved venue, recognised as one of the best sites in the world to see contemporary sculpture in the open air. The Gallery has been elegantly incorporated into an 18th century garden. It is wholly modern, yet respectful of the atmosphere and ambiance of its setting.

The short-listed museums will all receive a plaque to display as well as framed citations from the judges.

The judging panel comprised:

  • Professor Robert Winston, esteemed scientist and broadcaster as Chair
  • Michael Day, Chief Executive, Historic Royal Palaces
  • Ekow Eshun, writer, journalist and broadcaster and artistic director of the ICA
  • Diane Lees, director of the V&A Museum of Childhood
  • Joanna Moorhead, journalist and author
  • Dan Snow, historian and broadcaster

The Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries is, at £100,000, the biggest single arts prize in the UK and is funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Last year’s winner was Big Pit: National Mining Museum of Wales in Blaenafon, a preserved coal mine where visitors can descend 300 feet underground to experience the working conditions that generations of miners endured daily. After winning the prize, Big Pit had a total of over 158,000 visitors for the season, which was an increase of 12,000, or just over 8%, on the previous year. The museum was also able to stay open throughout the winter for the first time in a number of years.

The 2004 winner was the landscape sculpture Landform by Charles Jencks at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The inaugural prize was awarded to the National Centre for Citizenship and the Law at Nottingham’s Galleries of Justice in 2003 for the education programme it ran with schools, young offenders and the local community.

For further information, images and interviews, please contact:
Anna Mayall or Liz Sich at Colman Getty PR
Telephone: 020 7631 2666
Fax: 020 7631 2699
Out of hours: 07968 584130


Notes to editors:

  • In addition to the four short-listed museums and galleries, the following were long-listed for The Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries - Cambridge & County Folk Museum; The Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms, London; Dorchester Abbey Museum, Dorchester-on-Thames; The Concorde Experience at the Museum of Flight, near Edinburgh; National Waterfront Museum, Swansea; The Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre, Great Missenden.
  • Brunel’s ss Great Britain has won two other museum awards this month. At the 2006 Museums and Heritage Awards for Excellence, the ss Great Britain Trust won the restoration and conservation award and the permanent exhibition award.
  • Dr Elizabeth Mackenzie, as a trustee of the ss Great Britain, stood down as a judge at short list stage. She took no part in the judges’ long-listing or short-listing discussions concerning ss Great Britain and did not attend the meeting to decide the winner.
  • The Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries is administered by The Museum Prize, a charitable company created in 2001 by the Campaign for Museums, the Museums Association, the The Art Fund and National Heritage. These organisations agreed to put aside award schemes they formerly ran (including the National Heritage Museum of the Year) and lend their support to the prize. The Museum Prize is chaired by Penelope, Viscountess Cobham. The Trustees include representatives of all four founding organisations.
  • The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a season of special events throughout 2006 highlighting the work of the Foundation in the UK. The programme includes sole support for the Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art exhibition, an association that marks a long history of collaboration between the Foundation and Tate and draws attention to the UK Branch’s continued support of new and original art-making. There has also been a display at Tate Britain of British works from the Foundation’s Modern Art Centre in Lisbon (which has one of the largest collections of contemporary British art outside the UK). In April 2006 the Foundation published Experience and Experiment, a history of the UK Branch by Robert Hewison and John Holden; and in November will hold the Atlantic Waves Festival featuring world-class Portuguese musicians.
  • The Heritage Lottery Fund funded three out of the four museums on the short list for the Gulbenkian Prize this year, including ss Great Britain. £26.9 million went specifically to the elements of the projects that were long-listed for the Gulbenkian Prize. The HLF enables communities to celebrate, look after and learn more about our diverse heritage. From our great museums and historic buildings to local parks and beauty spots or recording and celebrating traditions, customs and history, HLF grants open up our nation’s heritage for everyone to enjoy. Over the last 11 years, it has supported more than 18,000 projects, allocating over £3.3billion across the UK, over £1billion of which has been awarded to museums and galleries
  • The Prize is supported by The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), the national development agency working for and on behalf of museums, libraries and archives and advising government on policy and priorities for the sector. MLA supports the Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries under Renaissance, its ground-breaking programme to transform England’s regional museums. Public funding support has also been provided by The Welsh Assembly Government.

Additional funding provided by sponsors:

  • Blackwall Green (Jewellery and Fine Art)
  • Consensus Business Group
  • Boneca Vasconcellos

and by the Gulbenkian Prize Patrons 2006:

  • Antenna Audio
  • Hanwell Instruments Ltd
  • The Arbib Foundation
  • Wragge & Co

Support in kind provided by:

  • 24 Hour Museum
  • Chiltern Railways
  • DFJ Vinhos Lda –‘The New Portugal’ UK Office – D & F Wines
  • Farrer & Co
  • Inn Supplies
  • Markimeld Ltd/Lisboa Portuguese Bakers