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Gairloch Museum wins an 'Oscar' with Art Fund accolade, the biggest prize of its kind in the world; Wester Ross visitor attraction takes share of £200K prize after rebirth story thrills judges

By Hector MacKenzie

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Gairloch Museum has been busy since it reopened its doors.
Gairloch Museum has been busy since it reopened its doors.

A "truly special" Wester Ross visitor attraction has taken the equivalent of an Oscar at a prestigious competition.

The Art Fund Museum of the Year competition has been described as "the biggest museum prize in the world".

In response to the huge challenges and financial pressures currently facing museums, the total prize pot was increased to £200,000 this year and divided equally between five winners.

Amongst them is Gairloch Museum. nestling alongside The Science Museum and The South London Gallery in the capital city.

Judges said they were captivated by the story of the rebirth of this "truly special museum". .The citation described it as "a tale of people-power, determination, and local pride".

It added: "The museum’s move in 2019 to a new home – not a grand new build but a re-purposed nuclear bunker – transformed a village eyesore into an important visitor attraction. It was the culmination of an eight-year, £2.4 million redevelopment project realised by this community and more than 120 volunteers.

"The redisplay of the museum’s collection which encapsulates the history, culture, beauty and character of Gairloch and its new home have reaminated the village’s pride in its heritage, created a buzzing new community hub, and produced a sustainable cultural landmark for generations of visitors to enjoy."

Gairloch Museum
Gairloch Museum

The honour was shared with Aberdeen Art Gallery and Towner Eastbourne in Eastbourne.

Gairloch Museum later announced: "We are still pinching ourselves! Astounded, amazed, shocked and stunned (but not – so far - lost for words!) to be selected. For a small, independent museum to be a winner of the most prestigious museum prize in the world is no mean feat.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who made this possible – Gairloch Museum staff, volunteers, board members, our amazing local community, our visitors and our funders. Not least thank you to Art Fund – the impact this award will have for us cannot be overstated."

Gairloch Museum
Gairloch Museum

And in a nod to the other winners, it added: "Great company we are in too."

Chris Taylor, VisitScotland regional leadership director, said: “I am thrilled that Gairloch Museum has been chosen as one of only two Scottish winners of Art Fund’s prestigious Museum Of The Year award.

“I would also like to extend my congratulations to the other Scottish winner, Aberdeen Art Gallery. Both are equally-deserving of this accolade, demonstrating that their work over the previous year has stood out way beyond that of their competitors.

“2019 was a transformational year for Gairloch Museum. At the heart of its relocation and reopening has been a huge community effort from a fantastic volunteer base, to successfully secure £2.4m in funding to redevelop and transform a disused nuclear bunker into such a fantastic new visitor attraction and community hub. For such a small community, this is very inspirational.

“The museum has further strengthened the cultural offering for visitors to the Highlands during what has been a hugely challenging year for the tourism industry.”

Congratulations poured in via social media. Verity Walker Eley wrote: "So proud a Highland museum has won a 'museum Oscar'. Well done."

Wendy Watson wrote: "Fantastic! Well deserved and amazing for our wee village to have something like this in it."

Gill Smith wrote: "Incredible, and yet not incredible! It's such a special museum with extremely creative use of such an apparently unspecial building. Very, very well done."

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How to find out more about the museum and pay a visit

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