Judges for the £100,000 Art Fund prize said the Whitworth had cemented its place as the centre of the cultural national stage.
Stephen Deuchar, the director of the Art Fund who chaired the judges, said: “The transformation of the Whitworth – architecturally, curatorially, and as a destination – has been one of the great museum achievements of recent years.”
He praised the galleries, the collections, the community engagement, and the visitor experience. “And in a wider sense, the Whitworth has changed the landscape; it truly feels like a museum of the future.”
The Whitworth opened its doors 126 years ago supported by 60 eminent Mancunians, including CP Scott, the Manchester Guardian editor and the man who came up with the phrase: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”
The gallery’s one aim was to act for “the perpetual gratification of the people of Manchester”.
By 1908, it had world class collections of British watercolours and drawings, 266 given by Manchester Guardian owner, John Edward Taylor, and textiles. It has added enviable holdings of modern art and wallpapers since then. It was the first public collection to buy a Picasso, in 1922, and by the late 1960s, as it championed artists such as David Hockney, it was being nicknamed “the Tate of the north”.
The gallery closed for redevelopment in the autumn of 2013 and reopened in February of last year – transformed.
Judges for the prize said its “reinvention … has redefined the way it engages with its public”, citing the connection between the building and surrounding park to create a space with a strong sense of openness and invitation.
“It is a truly modern building that has established its place at the heart of the city.”
They also praised the team leading it, not least its dynamic director Maria Balshaw who took charge in 2006 and also leads Manchester Art Gallery in the city centre.
The prize was presented by the poet and novelist, Ben Okri, after a dinner at London’s Tate Modern. The shortlisted organisations who missed out were: The MAC in Belfast, the Tower of London, the Imperial War Museum in London, Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History, and the National Trust property Dunham Massey near Altrincham.