The annual prize, which is widely regarded as the most prestigious award for UK museums, surveys museums and galleries across the UK and selects those which have demonstrated exceptional creativity and ambition over the past twelve months.
The winning museum will be announced on 1 July at a ceremony at Tate Modern and will receive £100,000. The other shortlisted museums are Dunham Massey (National Trust), Altrincham; IWM London (Imperial War Museums); The MAC, Belfast; HM Tower of London; and The Whitworth, Manchester.
In February 2014 the Museum of Natural History in Oxford reopened after 14 months under wraps while its iconic Victorian glass roof was restored. This £4m project literally cast the Museum’s main court in a new light, both through the cleaning and replacement of some 8,600 glass tiles, but also thanks to a new state-of-the-art LED lighting scheme that was installed at the same time.
While the Museum was darkened by scaffolding and construction work, a bigger transformation was taking place. Using the opportunity of closure to experiment with innovative and creative forms of public engagement, including the Goes to Town project in Oxford city centre which is shortlisted for a Museums + Heritage Award, the Museum remerged in 2014 with a new voice and an expanded programme for a wider audience.
'Our public programme encourages visitors of all ages to understand and engage with the natural environment, and sits alongside our world-class research and teaching. The museum’s small team and our volunteers are delighted that this transformation has led to being named as a finalist in the prestigious Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2015,” said Professor Paul Smith, director of the Museum.
Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: 'We are delighted that the Oxford University Museum of Natural History has been selected as a Finalist in the Art Fund Prize Museum of the Year 2015. This achievement recognises the exceptional quality of its public engagement, teaching and research.
'The Museum's internationally-important collections are housed in a truly unique building, and the restoration of its roof and improvements to the court have assured it of a very bright future.'
On Friday 8 May the Museum will open two new exhibitions. Biosense is a temporary exhibition looking at contemporary science research into the ways organisms use biological sensing to detect changes in their environments; and Sensing Evolution presents two new permanent displays of touchable specimens exploring the evolutionary adaptations of mammals and reptiles.
The Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2015 will be celebrated on BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3 and BBC News Online, in a series of broadcasts and online interactive presentations during the period leading up to the announcement of the winner, enabling a widespread national debate about the value of the UK’s museums.
The Prize also partners with VocalEyes, a charity that provides access to arts and heritage for blind and partially sighted people. As well as creating introductory audio descriptions, VocalEyes will offer visual awareness training opportunities for staff and volunteers at the shortlisted museums to ensure that they are equipped to greet and guide blind and partially sighted visitors.