The Walthamstow gallery won this year’s £100,000 Art Fund prize following a £5m renovation, beating several other museums from around the country, including London’s Horniman Museum and the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Back in 2007, the William Morris Gallery faced cuts and possible closure at the hands of the local authority. But after a community campaign, Waltham Forest council agreed to invest £1.5m into what was once a rather old-fashioned museum, matching the £1.5m offered by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The renovated gallery opened in August last year.
It tells the story of William Morris’ life for modern-day visitors, with plenty of detailed exhibits and hands-on, fun activities for families. The Victorian designer, artist, author, poet and top socialist’s life is cleverly woven into the fabric of the grand Georgian building where he lived. As well as the inside, the gardens have been beautifully updated, making this a great museum for kids who like to run around after absorbing a bit of culture. There’s also space for temporary shows (we loved the David Bailey exhibition there earlier this year); the gallery will be the first venue to host Jeremy Deller’s current exhibition from the Venice Biennale when it goes on a tour of the UK next year.
According to the Guardian, Stephen Deuchar, director of The Art Fund and chair of the judges said the local campaign and the council response were to be commended. The local authority discovered “what they might have thought was a sleepy old museum that could be humanely put down, could in fact be revitalised and that is what has happened. In these difficult times for an area of London facing many other pressures, to put in £1.5m was a great and responsive act.”
The refurbished gallery was setting the highest standards of curatorship, said Deuchar. “The collections are not only important but they are very beautifully presented, in terms of the physical fabric of the showcases and also the interpretation – the labels are erudite and accessible. There is a great curatorial coherence to the collections and that comes across in every square foot of the museum.”
This year’s Museum of the Year judging panel included journalist Sarah Crompton, historian Bettany Hughes, MP Tristram Hunt and artist Bob and Roberta Smith.
Visit the William Morris Gallery on Forest Road, London, E17 4PP. Entrance is free, so you’ve got no excuses; it’s a fantastic museum. Visit wmgallery.org.uk for more information.