So much we own; so little we see

By | Category: Travel rumblings
Carlisle Town Hall. Carlisle Council displays the least of the art holdings it possesses

Carlisle Town Hall. Carlisle Council displays the least of the art holdings it possesses

Readers with long memories might remember a tirade against museums and galleries who show just a small portion of the works that they hold. Now, new research by the TaxPayers’ Alliance, shows that only 3% of what we own is on display. What educational or public value is there in having this “hidden art”

Astonishingly, if you added up all the artworks that we own and which is held in our museums, galleries and public buildings it would be worth an estimated £3.5 billion. Yet we can’t see most of it.

According to the TaxPayers Alliance, local authorities in the United Kingdom owned at least 5.5 million works of art with an estimated value of more than £2 billion. Manchester City Council owned the most valuable collection, with a total value of £374 million across 46,347 pieces. North Hertfordshire District Council could not provide an exact answer as to how many pieces of art they owned but possess the largest collection of any local authority, with “over a million items.”

Carlisle Council was the poorest performing authority in the country when it came to displaying the art it owns. Of the 864,100 words of art owned by the Council, only 155 – 0.02 per cent – were on display.

The most valuable item found by our research is Henry VIII’s armour for field and tournament, valued at £53.55 million having been acquired by the Royal Armouries in 1649.

Manchester Town Hall. the council owns the richest collection in the UK

Manchester Town Hall. the council owns the richest collection in the UK

As the TaxPayers Alliance says, much of this art may have been bequeathed to the government specifically to be put on public display and selling it off would be inappropriate or against the direct wishes of the benefactor. But they could display it better.  They could, for example, on the annual Heritage Open Days  (coming up next weekend in most places) put on temporary exhibitions to showcase more of what they look after on our behalf.  They may also wish to consider loaning much of the artwork held in storage to schools, hospitals, town halls or local community centres.

The research throws up sme strange facts such as that Wrexham Council has the largest collection of art in Wales – not Cardiff or even Swansea which, given that they are bigger, might be more understandable.  In Northern Ireland, it is Banbridge District Council which owns the most valuable collection, not Belfast and East Ayrshire Council possesses the most valuable collection even outstripping Edinburgh.

But if they cannot devise a way where we can see more of what we own, then maybe they shouldn’t be the trustees of our art heritage and they should hand it over to some authority that can display more of them. I also urge those considering donating works of art to consider giving it only on the condition that they can be regularly seen.

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Tags: , , , , ,