Wasting Monet? Local authority artworks

Introduction

Local authorities own a significant amount of artwork. Museums, galleries and libraries are part of the public sector and often under the remit of their local authority. Some authorities’ pieces of art are of significant value.

Local authority art collections extend far beyond galleries and museums, with only some of it actually on display to the public. Instead, local authorities keep large collections for use in council premises or for the benefit of council staff. In addition many pieces are left in storage.

At a time when savings need to be made across the board and some local authorities complain about lack of funds, it is important that councils assess what they do and do not need to hold on to and act accordingly, ensuring that taxpayers money is not being wasted on old canvasses gathering dust in a storage room, or hanging in the office of a council chief executive.

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Key findings

  • Local authorities in the UK own at least 1.9 million pieces of art.
  • This artwork is worth nearly £1.9 billion. The average value of collections for each council is around £7 million
  • On average only 30.2 per cent of the art is on public display.
  • Between 2016-2017 and 2018-2019 Bassetlaw district council purchased the most artwork with 201 pieces of art bought, despite only 8.5 per cent of their collection being on public display.
  • The council with the largest collection of artwork was Middlesbrough council with more than 250,000 items. However this authority has decided to withhold the value of their collection and number of pieces on display. 
  • The highest value art collection was held by Manchester city council being valued at around £369 million. Only 7.6 per cent of its collection is on display.

Eight local authorities did not display any of the artworks they owned, with Wiltshire owning 2,099 yet not displaying any.

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