The Victoria & Albert Museum has pledged to support smaller museums across the country after being named the Museum of the Year 2016.
The judges said the London-based V&A had “indisputably become one of the best museums in the world”.
It was announced as the winner by the Duchess of Cambridge at a ceremony at the Natural History Museum.
The £100,000 prize is the world’s biggest museum prize and the largest single arts prize in the UK.
Martin Roth, the V&A’s director, said he was “totally overwhelmed” at the win and that it was a compliment to the work of museum’s staff.
“There are a lot of smaller museums that do any amazing job,” he told the guests in the Natural History Museum’s Hintze Hall, home to the cast of the famous Diplodocus skeleton.
“We thought it’s great to be there on the shortlist, but the other ones deserve the prize and the money.”
Roth immediately announced that the V&A would use the prize money to re-establish a department – originally set up in the 1970s, but later axed in budget cuts – to support and collaborate with museums and galleries across the country.
“That was the idea then and we need it even more now,” he told the BBC shortly after his acceptance speech. “It comes at the right moment with Brexit and the other problems that we have – we need solidarity, we need to work together.”
He admitted the referendum vote to the leave the EU had worried him and others at the V&A. “It’s the unknown,” he said, “It feels like skiing in very thick fog.”
He added that he had already received letters from potential funders “asking if we can put things on hold”.
The V&A was picked from five finalists. The others on the shortlist were:
- Arnolfini, Bristol
- Bethlem Museum of the Mind, London
- Jupiter Artland, West Lothian
- York Art Gallery, Yorkshire
“The V&A experience is an unforgettable one,” said Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director and chairman of the judges.
“Its recent exhibitions from Alexander McQueen to The Fabric of India, and the opening of its new Europe 1600-1815 galleries, were all exceptional accomplishments – at once entertaining and challenging, rooted in contemporary scholarship, and designed to reach and affect the lives of a large and diverse national audience.
“It was already one of the best-loved museums in the country: This year it has indisputably become one of the best museums in the world.”
Among the 370 guests at the ceremony were artists Antony Gormley, Grayson Perry, Michael Craig-Martin, Cornelia Parker, Mat Collishaw, Gavin Turk, Yinka Shonibare and Jonathan Yeo, as well as Culture Minister Ed Vaizey.
The Art Fund awards its museum of the year prize to an establishment which has “shown exceptional imagination, innovation and achievement”.
In 2015, the V&A enjoyed a record-breaking year for the establishment, pulling in 3.9 million visitors, and 14.5 million visitors online.
This success has been largely due to a major gallery restoration project and sell-out exhibitions such as Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, in celebration of the innovative designer who died in 2010, which attracted a record-breaking 493,043 visitors from 87 countries.
Its 2013 hit David Bowie Is retrospective, which embarked on a global tour after its London run, notched up its millionth visitor in Paris in May.
Other highlights have included a major show of Indian textiles and a worldwide touring programme for the V&A’s Museum of Childhood.
The judges for Museum of the Year 2016 were: Gus Casely-Hayford, curator and art historian; Will Gompertz, BBC arts editor; Ludmilla Jordanova, professor of history and visual culture, Durham University; Cornelia Parker, artist; and Stephen Deuchar (chair).
Last year the prize was awarded to the Whitworth in Manchester.