Major artworks could be moved out of London and into town halls and cathedrals in the regions as part of a Government bid to widen access, HuffPost UK has learned.
Arts and Heritage Minister Michael Ellis has said he will publish plans to ensure items part of the national collection were “shared more strategically” across the country, by the end of the year.
National galleries are contributing to the new framework, which is aimed at touring more of the public collection, but the Tory MP stressed “art doesn’t always have to be displayed inside a museum” and any public building could be used as a destination.
It comes after a North-South divide on arts funding was slammed, with the IPPR think tank estimating a further £700m in the 2018-22 funding round was needed to match per-head funding in the south. An additional £42.5m per year for venues outside of London was all that was allocated, however.
Labour said cultural assets should not be “the preserve of a privileged few” and criticised the fact 4,600 publicly-owned artworks were not on display anywhere last year. The plans should not replace proper funding of the arts, shadow arts minister Kevin Brennan added.
I will work with our national museums on this and look forward to hearing from them how best to take this on.
Micheal Ellis, Arts and Heritage Minister
Ellis told HuffPost UK he was still consulting with culture sector leaders, adding: “I strongly support the development of this framework to ensure that works in our national museums and galleries are shared more strategically across the country. I will work with our national museums on this and look forward to hearing from them how best to take this on.
“While the project is still in its early days, our museums are independent of government and work with their partners about objects that are of interest for loan.
“We also need to remember that loans are dependant on the venues ability to accommodate items – this can be down to the size of objects and space available, environmental and conservation conditions, as well as the venue’s own collection.
“It is also worth noting that our local and regional museums themselves have some amazing items in their collections that they lend to national museums too.”
Asked if the artworks would be displayed in galleries, Ellis said: “Of course not, art doesn’t always have to be displayed inside a museum. One example being the National Trust. They have a number of portraits from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery on long-term loan.
“The Science Museum works with science centres across the country and perhaps most well known is Dippy the Diplodocus’ tour across the UK – he’s going to a number of museums but also to a town hall and a cathedral.
“The key thing is that objects in the national collection go to venues and locations where they can be appropriately cared for. This does sometimes mean that the most suitable venue is a museum or a gallery, but we are working to ensure that items are accessible for as many people as possible.
“The objective is to make the national museums’ support for the museums sector in England more strategic.”
Last year, around 4,600 artworks in the government’s own art collection were not on display.
Shadow Arts Minister, Kevin Brennan
The pledge to share more artworks outside of the capital comes after the Government spent £15m to ensure the Great Exhibition of the North in Newcastle and Gateshead, had lasting benefits. It has also invested £78m in a new theatre and arts complex called the Factory, in Manchester.
Arts Council England, meanwhile, has been urged to focus funding on preparing for automation and Brexit by investing more in research and development during a public consultation on a ten-year strategic plan on the threats, challenges and opportunities for the cultural sector.
Shadow arts minister Kevin Brennan said: “The Government must do more to help ensure that national cultural assets are shared fairly across the UK. Far too often, arts and culture are seen to be the preserve of a privileged few.
“Last year, around 4,600 artworks in the government’s own art collection were not on display. Labour has promised to widen the reach of the government art collection, and we will continue to push the Government to make sure that our shared cultural heritage is available to all.”
A DCMS spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving access to the arts and culture across England and are currently developing a framework that will ensure that the items in our national museums and art galleries are shared more strategically across the country.”