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gallery space in helsinki art museum with a photograph of an artist and her frescoes behind her
Original photo by Diana Salim

The Value of Serving Others and Igniting Hope

Essex art museum, Firstsite, won museum of the year due to its combination of extravagant artwork and generosity to the community. One of the ways that Firstsite was set apart, was its priority to form relationships between the local community and artists. During the pandemic, the museum was used for the purpose of helping others, such as being used as a base to supply food to local neighborhoods, and turning its restaurant into a school canteen offering free school meals during the holidays. As claimed in The Art Newspaper, “£100,000 prize is the largest of its kind and was awarded to the Essex museum for being an ‘outstanding example of innovation and integrity,’ says Jenny Waldman, the Art Fund director and chair of the judging panel. At their core is powerful, engaged contemporary art, housed in a gallery that gives space for everyone, from artists to NHS staff to local families and refugee groups.” Firstsite went above and beyond helping others proving that they were much more than an art museum. The museum managed to bring hope and creativity to families also during a time of distress with The Great Big Art Exhibition which encouraged the community to create their own work of art and stick them on the windows of the museum.  Firstsite has gone through drastic changes the past couple of years, truly gaining their footing during the pandemic for their philanthropy. In 2015, “​​It was in crisis mode after Arts Council England removed it from the national portfolio instead of offering a year-by-year funding deal,” as highlighted in The Guardian. Firstsite returned to the national portfolio in 2018 under new leadership. Sally Shaw was crucial in this turnaround for Firstsite, dedicating her time and expertise to demonstrate the beauty of this unique museum. Shaw was ecstatic to hear this groundbreaking news and in her words is, “ incredibly proud to be the director. We do two things at Firstsite, we work with some incredible artists and simultaneously we work with some extraordinary communities.” Firstsite highlights the importance of a community to art and what the purpose of art is meant to do, bring people together. Firstsite prioritized the importance of establishing a sense of belonging between the community and artists, which is a fresh perspective from a typical museum. The size of the museum contributed to establishing this tight-knit community, but at the very core of this museum is to serve the community igniting hope among the people. This museum demonstrates the power of art and the importance of helping others, which has gotten lost in the craziness of today’s world. We can learn from the impact of their contributions, that no small deed goes unnoticed.

Grace is a Sophomore at Providence College, studying Finance. She has always enjoyed writing in her free time and reading books especially mystery and romance novels. Also in her free time she loves spending time with friends, staying active, and going on adventures.
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