Art Fund looks to paint a picture of acquisitions

Simon Stephens, Issue 105/11, p8, November 2005
The National Art Collections Fund (Art Fund) is to carry out a UK-wide survey of museum and gallery acquisitions over the past five years.
More than 300 museums will be contacted during November in what is probably the most comprehensive survey ever of UK acquisitions.

The aim is to publish a document in the spring that will give a detailed picture of the state of acquisitions and provide a benchmark for the sector. Future surveys planned at three- to five-year intervals will identify trends.

One of the main incentives for doing the research is the sector's concern about the decline in funding for acquisitions. A renewed commitment to acquisitions was one of the main recommendations of the recent Museums Association's Collections for the Future report.

'We know that funding for acquisitions is declining and there are less opportunities for museums to acquire, but a lot of the evidence for this is anecdotal,' said Sally Wrampling, the public affairs manager at the Art Fund who is leading the survey.

'The findings of the survey should help us target our grants more effectively and will also give us some real data for our lobbying work. It should also be useful for other organisations in the sector.'

The Art Fund said that since 1993, the money allocated for acquisitions by the five major UK art museums from their government grant has fallen by 90 per cent. Income to the National Heritage Memorial Fund has dropped 58 per cent over the same period and income to the Heritage Lottery Fund has fallen 41 per cent since 1997.

At the same time, art prices have soared. To help overcome these problems, the Art Fund has been calling for the government to introduce tax incentives for donors.

Gerry McQuillan, the head of the acquisitions, export and loans unit at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, said the research would help show the Treasury that tax incentives for acquisitions would be useful.

'A little bit of tax help would put us on a par with some European countries, and also America, where the tax system for donating art is so encouraging,' McQuillan said. 'People are much more aware of the value of art and there is always the encouragement of the auction houses to dispose of items that way.'

The Art Fund survey, to be carried out by the research company FreshMinds, will look at acquisitions in their broadest sense, including bequests, donations and loans. It will look at all museums, not just art galleries, and explore regional variations.

Simon Stephens