NACF hits out at the UK's timid public collecting policy - Museums Association

NACF hits out at the UK’s timid public collecting policy

Public collecting is cautious and reactive, according to the National Art Collections Fund (NACF) – the largest UK charity devoted …
Jane Morris
Public collecting is cautious and reactive, according to the National Art Collections Fund (NACF) - the largest UK charity devoted to raising funds to save art and artefacts.

The fund's director, David Barrie, lambasted a public collecting policy that is too focused on 'saving' works already in the UK, too insular, too directed by the priorities of funding bodies and which has contributed to the diminution of curatorial skills.

Barrie made his remarks at the Museums Association (MA) conference in Edinburgh last month, following the fund's publication of its Saving Art for the Nation book. The fund is currently trying to raise money to buy the Macclesfield Psalter for £1.685m for the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The work is currently under a starred export stop, after the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) turned down an application to buy the 14th-century manuscript. It was subsequently bought by the Getty in Los Angeles. The art fund has since pledged £500,000 and is asking the HLF to reconsider its decision.

Barrie described it as an 'Alice in Wonderland situation' when one public body decides not to fund a purchase, then another [the export reviewing committee] decides it is so important it should not leave the country. 'The burden is falling on a charity such as ourselves, which is not how public collecting policy should be structured,' he said.

Barrie also criticised a situation that is so reactive that everyone is forced to focus on export-stopped items. He said another problem was that curators were becoming increasingly marginalised within museums.

Nima Poovaya Smith, the director of the cultural agency Alchemy and the chairwoman of one of the MA's working groups on collecting, said she agreed with many of Barrie's comments. 'We are collecting very little work by non-white artists, for example, despite the fact that the work made in the 1980s and 1990s is historically particularly important.' She also expressed concern about the lack of emphasis on curatorial skills: 'The pleasure principle of collecting is all very well, but you need to know the context in which you are collecting, and what other museums hold.'

The MA's collecting consultation period has been extended until 1 November. Go to the MA website at

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