The Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill was crowned the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year after it reimagined its role as the creative hub of the community during the pandemic – having had time to reflect on the climate emergency and Black Lives Matter protests.
The organisation created a micro-forest to combat pollution from the South Circular — the museum is in the borough of Lewisham, where Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was found to have died in 2013 due to the impact of air pollution — and curated the 696 festival, incorporating the black British sounds of south London through gigs, installations, collaborations and summer music events.
The Horniman, which has its own aquarium, is also London’s only museum to exhibit environmental, ecological and human culture side-by-side.
The museum’s director, Nick Merriman, was presented with the £100,000 prize by BBC Radio 6 DJ and judge Huw Stephens during a ceremony on Thursday at the Design Museum in London.
It beat Derby Museums, Museum of Making, People’s History Museum in Manchester, The Story Museum in Oxford and art gallery Tŷ Pawb in Wrexham.
Each of the finalist museums have received a £15,000 prize in recognition of their achievements.
Jenny Waldman, Art Fund director and chair of the judges for Art Fund Museum of the Year, said: “The Horniman Museum and Gardens has now blossomed into a truly holistic museum bringing together art, nature and its myriad collections.
“Its values are woven through everything it now does, with a passionate team breathing life and meaning into every object, performance, plant and animal.
“In many ways it’s the perfect museum and I would encourage everyone to go and experience all it has to offer.”
Dame Diane Lees, director-general of the Imperial War Museums, said: “The Horniman Museum and Gardens are championing the natural environment, commissioning artists and music festivals, to bring the eclectic collections of Frederick Horniman new relevance with diverse communities.
“They are setting the agenda for how a traditional museum can reinvent itself through powerful ideas.”
Last year, the Museum of the Year prize was awarded to Firstsite in Colchester in Essex, after it transformed into a food bank and helped serve free school meals during the pandemic.