EMYA was founded in 1977 on the principles of supporting, encouraging, awarding and showcasing excellence and innovation in the museum field, particularly in the areas conceptualised by Kenneth Hudson as ‘public quality’.

The EMYA award scheme, unusually for its times, did not focus primarily on the quality or quantity of the collection or the quality or quantity of the research and documentation, but rather on the general atmosphere which visitors would encounter, and what they would experience, understand, enjoy, and take away with them as food for thought.

This concern with with public benefit and innovation in the museum sector was shared by the Council of Europe which from the start was an active supporter of the EMYA scheme. And the CoE cultural policies and museum prize focus not only on innovation, but emphasise a European perspective and the articulation of citizenship and democracy, human rights and inter-cultural dialogue in museums. The EMYA award scheme is framed by and embedded in these social and humanitarian values.

The purpose and mission of EMF and EMYA can thus been summarised as follows:

The European Museum Forum (EMF) provides the legal and organisational framework for the annual European Museum of the Year Award scheme (EMYA).

EMF/EMYA is dedicated to promoting excellence in innovation and public quality in museum practice, encouraging networking and exchange of ideas and sustainable best practices within the sector.

EMF/EMYA works within an overall framework of a commitment to citizenship, democracy and human rights, to sustainability and to bridging cultures and social and political borders.

The different awards within the EMYA scheme reflect, represent, and emphasise different aspects and dimensions of these values.

The highly structured judging process ensures the ability to discern professional quality, innovation and creativity across the vast differences in scale, funding, obligations and contexts of museums in Europe.