The annual EMYA competition has been ongoing and continuous since 1977. It is estimated that more than 1900 museums have been candidates for the scheme and visited by EMYA judges, and that around 400 awards have been given to museums in 36 countries.
An average of around 45 museums apply each year, from across the 47 CoE member countries, with winners distributed across museums of all types, scales, disciplines and locations. 2020 set the record with 61 candidates.
Museum candidates are either new museums, first opened to the public within the past three years, or established museums that have renewed their organisation and completed a substantial programme of modernisation and extension of their buildings and galleries.
Over the years the EMYA scheme has developed into a series of different awards, each with their own specific profile.
The European Museum of the Year Award goes to a museum which is excellent and innovative on all dimensions and offers its visitors and other users a unique atmosphere, imaginative interpretation and presentation, and a creative approach to education and social responsibility. Past winners have been large and small museums, all types of museums, in very different locations, but all developed something which changed the standards of quality in museums within Europe.
The Council of Europe Museum Prize is awarded, based on the recommendations of the EMYA jury, by the Committee on Culture, Science and Education of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to a museum which puts particular emphasis on European perspectives and the interplay between local and European identities, on a commitment to and presentation of key values of democracy, human rights, inter-cultural dialogue, of bridging cultures and overcoming social and political borders.
The Kenneth Hudson Award honours the spirit of the founder of EMYA, and goes to a museum, person, project or a group of people who have demonstrated the most unusual, daring and, perhaps, controversial achievement that challenges common perceptions of the role and responsibility of museums in society. The winner is chosen by the EMF Board of Trustees, and is not necessarily selected from the pool of the EMYA candidates.
The Silletto Prize is sponsored by the Silletto Trust and goes to a museum which has demonstrated excellence in involving its local community in planning, developing and running museum and heritage projects or has attracted outstanding support from its work with volunteers with the goal to enhance the public quality of the museum.
The Portimão Museum Prize is sponsored by the Municipality of Portimao and celebrates a friendly atmosphere of welcome, where all visitors, regardless of their background, feel they belong in the museum. All elements of the museum – its human qualities and physical environment – contribute to the feeling of welcome, as do events and activities in and around the museum.
The Meyvaert Museum Prize for Sustainability is sponsored by Meyvaert and goes to a museum which demonstrates an exceptional commitment to social, economic and environmental sustainability in how it operates and/or how it presents issues of sustainability in its displays and programmes.
Special Commendations are given to museums that have developed a new and innovative aspect of their public service and from which other European museums can learn.
Supplementing the award scheme Event Communications has supported professional development for younger professionals in the sector through travel bursaries to participate in the EMF/EMYA annual conferences and through fully funded internships in the Event offices.