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British Arts Council may have to sell masterpieces

bacThe British Arts Council is under fire on several counts, but the suggestion that a substantial portion of the Council’s art collection should be sold off to private collectors and investors has met with special outrage.  The proposed sale would include works by Sarah Lucas, Damian Hurst and Anish Kapoor, whose sculptures are currently on special exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery.  Some of Kapoor’s works on exhibit are owned by the Arts Council.

The Council was created in 1946 for the purpose of buying art work to be loaned to galleries and museums.  There are about 7,500 art works in the collection at present, and until now none have ever been sold.  The Council argues that selling off art work is not “a sensible solution” to the ongoing financial problem.

MP’s on the parliamentary select committee on culture have sharply criticized what they call the Council’s wasteful spending and poor leadership.  They cited the infamous Public gallery in West Bromwich, built with public funds at a cost of more than £52 million, which was in receivership long before it even opened.  A Council spokesperson said that was old news and had no relation to present circumstances.

The Committee’s report also recommends that the Council cut its administrative costs in half, on top of the 30% budget cut imposed last year.  This would necessarily involve shutting down a lot of smaller art organisations.  However according to committee chairman John Whittingdale, the report also offers suggestions on how these bodies could raise funds from other sources and manage their money better.

In other criticisms, MP’s pointed to the high level of funding for the council, noting an increase of 150% from 1998 to 2010.  They expressed mistrust of the council’s administrative decisions, suggesting that it’s spending money in the wrong places and/or ineffectively, and makes a poor replacement for its predecessor, the Museums, Archives and Libraries Council.

Public reaction to the committee report is certainly varied.  On one side there’s the cry that England’s art, culture and heritage is about to be sacrificed to the government’s financial quandary.  On the other side is the cry that the Arts Council is squandering public money and spending too much on itself and its pet projects.

Pretty much regardless of public opinion at this point, the word on public funding allocations is due out on Wednesday, and it is already clear that about half of the 1,300 grant applications will be denied.

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