Firstsite Museum and community values ​​in uncertain times

05:00:14 - December 28, 2021

Not only in uncertain times but even in a normal period, we always need to mobilize to adapt to the development and change of society. The recent pandemic has greatly affected all tourist attractions, including museums. Nevertheless, if seeing opportunities within a challenge, people will overcome anything. The Firstsite museum is one of the concrete examples, representing the ability to adapt as well as cope with adversity.

Despite being a little-known and small-scale museum, Firstsite has made efforts to renew itself, especially during the Covid-19 epidemic, to be honored as the Museum of the Year 2021 at Art Fund awards.

Some things about Firstsite

Firstsite is a contemporary visual arts gallery, founded in 2011 in Colchester, the East of England. This place is also similar to a community hub with an in-house cinema, cafeteria, shop, a meeting room and other spaces for rent.

Firstsite is completely free to enter, but through donations or memberships, customers can contribute to providing employment and learning opportunities for local people, and support for local and regional artists.

The museum is located in the heart of historic town Colchester, Essex, very near the famous Colchester Castle, shops and center car parks. Visitors can easily reach here by road or rail. The Firstsite building has a strange shape which is capable of attracting the attention of visitors.

Photo credit: Firstsite.

Six year ago, Firstsite was listed in special funding measures because of concerns over its viability and now is named as the winner of Art Fund’s most important prize. So what did Firstsite do to break through and win the world’s most prestigious museum award?

Firstsite’s own path amid the pandemic

In the epidemic, onsite activities are limited to the maximum extent to prevent the virus from spreading. That’s why everyone, every organization, business,… have to transfer to online platforms to stay engaged with the world. For Firstsite, along with the expansion of online platforms and virtual reality, they also boost meaningful community-focused activities.

A range of activities towards the community

One of the successful projects of Firstsite over the past year is “Art of Life”. This is an exhibition commissioned by the National Health Service (NHS) in order to enhance the understanding of the Covid-19 impacts on mental health.

“Art for Life” is built from workshops with artists and people in the frontline in the health care sector about their experiences of the pandemic and the subsequent effects on their lives. The exhibition features paintings, photography and sculpture which reflect life under lockdown and the experiences such as the importance of family, lack of human touch, or the significance of nature.

Firstsite also supports Black Lives Matter, a social movement protesting against all racially motivated violence against black people. In addition, there is a “Super Black: Online Festival” to celebrate African and Caribbean history and culture.

In the past year, a group of refugees, Firstsite staff and Refugee Action Colchester have worked together to create an exhibition of artworks called “My name is not Refugee”, enabling everybody to explore ideas and stories that are meaningful to them. This exhibition is also available in 3D for those who can’t make it in person.

Besides, Firstsite supported people during the pandemic by lending its building to the Community 360 non-profit charity to run a food bank. Moreover, the gallery has also offered 3,500 free meals and outdoor sports activities to children during the school holidays through Holiday Fun events.

Expand customer base

Art is something that all ages can enjoy. Not only adults can feel, but kids and young people can also do it, even giving extremely new perspectives.

In March 2020, when the epidemic broke out not long ago, Firstsite came up with the “Great Big Art Exhibition” idea of creating free activity packs for children and young people led by artists including Mark Wallinger, Grayson Perry, Antony Gormley, Sarah Lucas, etc. They encouraged people to draw by hand and put their artworks in the window or balcony as a kind of nationwide wave. The activity featured more than 50 artists and was downloaded by 92,000 households from all across the world such as Spain, Australia, New Zealand,… The works are being displayed in the Online Studio section of the museum’s website.

Firstsite also released a documentary named “Welcome to Essex” of Michael Landy, inviting visitors to explore and question the history of Essex and its contemporary portrayal in popular culture. The film helps many people understand more about the land where Firstsite is located as well as entertain during the lockdown time at home.

With all their efforts and creativity, Firstsite’s leadership team has achieved much success. Not only supporting the community, spreading good images and many spiritual values, the museum also won the highest award of the Art Fund organization – Museum of the Year 2021 with more than 134,000 USD. Jenny Waldman, Director of the Art Fund and chair of the judges, said Firstsite was “an outstanding example of innovation and integrity. Here is a small organization thinking big and caring for their local community.”


Miracles do not make success, but tireless efforts day and night. For instance, Firstsite, a museum on the brink of collapse, has been able to rise and stand proudly even in the global crisis thanks to its flexibility and keeping up with times. In addition to changing with the times, and developing online programs, Firstsite also focuses on community. In a tremendous situation, it is essential to stand together, motivate and support each other. The museum has proved that a business has small size, but a big will and ideas can make a big difference.

Firstsite Museum and community values ​​in uncertain times


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