Five Flemish contenders for European Museum of the Year


The competition for new or modernised museums will announce its winners in April 2020

New and improved

No less than five museums in Flanders have been nominated for the European Museum of the Year Award 2020. They will compete with 56 other institutions for the chance to join the Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren, the only Flemish winner of the prize so far.

The competition is organised by the European Museum Forum. To be eligible, a museum must either have opened to the public in the past three years or undergone a substantial programme of renovation or redevelopment.

Only one of the local contenders – the Museum Hof van Busleyden in Mechelen (pictured above) – is brand new. It opened its doors in 2018 with a focus on the city’s role under the Dukes of Burgundy.

As well as a palatial building and a collection of period artworks, the museum is home to a unique series of besloten hofjes, or enclosed gardens, devotional retables made by nuns in the city during the 16th century.

Another contender, the Snijders&Rockoxhuis in Antwerp, is the result of the existing Rockoxhuis museum expanding into a 17th-century building next door. The remaining three museums have all experienced major renovations in recent years: the Africa Museum in Tervuren, the Bokrijk Open Air Museum and the Koers cycle racing museum in Roeselare.

Catching Tongeren

While the Gallo-Roman Museum is the only Flemish museum to have won the award since the competition began in 1977, others have come close. The Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp was commended this year, when the winner was the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave in the Netherlands.

The Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp was commended in 2015, as was Mechelen’s Kazerne Dossin museum, devoted to the Holocaust and human rights, in 2014. Meanwhile, Ypres’ In Flanders Fields museum won the competition’s Council of Europe Museum Prize in 2000, and in 2013 the MAS museum in Antwerp won the Silletto Prize, which recognises excellence in working with the local community.

Out of 61 contenders in this edition, Switzerland has the highest number of entries, with eight nominations. Russia has six, and the Netherlands and Poland join Flanders with five nominations each.

The list features some famous names, such as the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the Victoria & Albert Museum’s new outpost in Dundee. There are also some more unusual entries, such as 14 Henrietta Street, a tenement museum in Dublin; the Museum of Secret Surveillance in Tirana, Albania; and the Hexenmuseum, a museum of witchcraft in Gränichen, Switzerland.

Photo courtesy Museum Hof van Busleyden