The Horniman Museum and Gardens in London has been awarded £100,000 after winning Art Fund’s prestigious title of Museum of the Year 2022. It is the largest prize in the global museum sector with the runners up winning £15,000 each.
Art Fund announced the decision at a ceremony in London’s Design Museum, stating that “day to day, the Horniman provides a relaxing and inspiring space for the local community to engage with art, culture and nature.”
Following significant social unrest and the pandemic of 2020, the museum strove for change and modernisation to reflect the needs of its visitors. “The Horniman has reimagined and reinvented the role a museum can play within a local community,” explained Art Fund’s director Jenny Waldman. “Very powerful values and ideas are woven through everything they do.”
Built in 1890, the Grade II*-listed building is nestled within a garden that spans across 16 acres of Forest Hill in south-east London. British Arts and Crafts architect Charles Harrison Townsend (1851-1928) designed the unique building in the Modern Style. It was funded by Frederick Horniman (1835-1906), the heir to a Victorian tea company, who handed over the museum to the public in 1901.
“The Horniman money came, at least initially, from the sale of tea in China which was shipped to London,” said Nick Merriman, the museum’s chief executive. “But [the tea] was paid for [with] opium, which was grown by the East India Company in India and smuggled into China.”
Today, the collection holds around 35,000 objects, including a huge taxidermy walrus that occupies the central plinth in the Natural History Gallery. Much of the collection was acquired through Frederick Horniman’s colonial connections, which drove the museum to launch The Reset Agenda project in 2021. The project sought to confront the museum’s colonialist roots, address long-standing issues of racism and climate in the collection, and attract a more inclusive audience and workforce.
Recent initiatives at the museum have included the exhibition ‘Hair: Untold Stories’, a live music festival celebrating Black music in South London and the creation of a micro-forest to combat local air pollution.
“I think The Horniman is a model for how museums with traditional collections can be vibrant and relevant places for today’s audiences,” concluded Waldman.
The five other finalists – Derby Museums, Museum of Making, People’s History Museum, The Story Museum, and Tŷ Pawb – were also awarded a £15,000 prize in recognition of their work.