Prize-giving is a very interesting preoccupation in the arts.
Barely a week goes by without a new announcement of cash to reward artistic endeavour deemed by experts as being particularly inspirational, innovative, enjoyable (occasionally) or extraordinary. This week is no different really, except that the sheer scale of the prize to be awarded is sufficient to have generated a lot column inches in the broadsheets (clearly size really does matter). The largesse of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in stumping up £100,000 for ?the most innovative and inspiring idea? in the museums and galleries sector clearly took everyone by surprise (p3), dwarfing, as it does, the cash offered by other well-known prizes like the Turner for art and the Man Booker for fiction.
But other than the money, what makes this one so interesting is that the ultimate judges as to whether a museum or gallery is worthy of this extremely high profile and lucrative reward for its endeavours, are going to be the people who visit them; and it is made crystal clear in the small print that the prize money ?is to be invested in a project or activity at the winning museum or gallery that will benefit visitors.? Now this sounds suspiciously like a requirement to be ?customer friendly?, because if visitors don?t like an exhibition, initiative or programme ? or find it ?inaccessible? in whatever way (not understanding what it?s all about, for example) then the chances of collecting the windfall will be pretty slim. That certainly focuses the mind, doesn?t it? Not least because suddenly the education, outreach and marketing staff are likely to have just as much influence as the directors and curators on an organisation?s chances of winning The BIG One.