The project, placed under the auspices of the Council of Europe, started in 1973 and the first prizes were awarded at a ceremony in the Rohan Palace in Strasbourg the following year.
From the outset, candidates had to be new museums or museums undergoing EMYA total reorganisation or considerable extensions to enable them to assimilate to the condition of a new museum. The main objective has always been to discover and publicise new ideas in European museums, Europe being defined in this context as a Europe of the Council of Europe rather than the narrow Europe of the European Community.
The members of an international jury, composed of 13 people, put their time and expertise at stake without any remuneration, except for travel expenses, which are the responsibility of the candidate museum.
Candidates are assessed according to the following criteria:
# Collections. Are they significant or interesting?
# Exhibitions and their discourse. Are they original and effective?
# Services to the public. The cafeteria, the restaurant, the stand, the car park, the toilets. Are they well designed and effective?
# Atmosphere. Is the museum warm and welcoming or cold and aseptic?
# Management. Is the museum well managed?
# Staff. Do staff relations seem good? Does the visitor detect elements of a “civil war”?
# Publications. What kind of publications does the museum produce?
# Promotion and communication. Are they appropriate and well organised?
# Animators. Does the museum have ambitious programmes?
Since the creation of the award we have had 587 candidates. The six countries with the most entries are Germany (79), France (65), England (61), Switzerland (57), Netherlands (38), Sweden (38).
If we score the Grand Prize with 10 points and the Prize of the Council of Europe with 8 points, and each Special Mention with 5 points, the countries at the top of the ranking by number of points are, in order, the following: England (108), Netherlands (98), Germany (96), France (95), Switzerland (65), Sweden (63).
In 1996, the prize was awarded for the first time to a museum belonging to an Eastern European country, the Romanian Peasant Museum in Bucharest, on the occasion of which Her Majesty Queen Fabiola presented the EMYA trophy, The Egg by sculptor Henry Moore, to the director Horia Bernea.
In his speech, the Chairman of the EMYA Trust, Mr Kenneth Hudson, said:
“My colleagues and I are certain that this year’s Grand Prize must go to the Romanian Peasant Museum in Bucharest. The wonderful collections of objects are presented and interpreted with exceptional skill and imagination, in a style of their own, with a strong impact on the visitor. The museum’s director is loved and respected by his colleagues, and his training as an artist has helped him to create a museum that goes beyond the traditional level of presentation and creates a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Horia Bernea is an exceptional man and we are sure that the European museum world will hear much more about him in the future. He, like his museum, is destined to exert an international influence.”
* Margareta Sterian Award for the best exhibition of the year (1993, 2001 and 2003 editions)
* “Hospitality Award” (designated by the Ministry of Tourism) in 1995
* National Cultural Heritage Awards (National Prize for Museography “Horia Bernea” – for the exhibition Work. Fire-Water-Wind – 2002, “Vasile Dragut” Award – 2002, “Al.Tzigara-Samurcas” Award – 2003)
* ICOM National Committee Award – for the Cahle exhibition in 2002
* Multimedia Award for the CD series “Eyes in Eyes” in 2002
* Multimedia Award for “Info Kiosk” in 2003
* “Mihai Băcescu” Prize for Heritage, obtained in 2004 for the project to promote the cultural heritage of Romania’s Lands – Țara Hațegului, the result of the partnership between the GeoMedia Centre, the Romanian Peasant Museum, the Geology Museum and the ,,Grigore Antipa” Museum.
* Mention awarded by the Romanian National ICOM Committee in 2005 for the thematic conception to Dr. Georgeta Rosu and Mrs. Danièle Malis, authors of the thematic conception of the exhibition Icons. Spiritual Abstractions , opened on 17 September 2005, at the Chateau – Musée Edgar Mèlik, in Cabriés, France, for the exemplary promotion of Romanian cultural values abroad.
* “Horia Bernea” Prize for Intangible Heritage of the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs for the project “Sântămăria Orlea – European self-portrait – Nature and Culture in Tara Hațegului“, 2006
* UCIN award for documentary film script for the DVD “The Museum at the Road”, 2006.