Call to put Southampton's public art collection into trust - Museums Association

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Call to put Southampton’s public art collection into trust

Petition seeks to safeguard artworks from disposal
The campaign group Save Our Art has set up a petition calling on the British government to create an independent trust that would safeguard the city’s £150m pre-eminent art collection against disposal.

Southampton City Council is considering selling one or more pieces from the Chipperfield Bequest as a last resort if it cannot raise an estimated £1.4m for repairing the roof of Southampton City Art Gallery.

The potential disposal is the latest in a number of sales from the collection that successive councils have attempted, although no sale has yet gone ahead.

The campaign group describes the potential sale as a test case that would “have catastrophic and damaging consequences for all collections in public ownership”, giving councils a green light to sell from collections in order to “fund unrelated schemes and services”.

It says moving the collection to an independent trust would allow it to be cared for “with no conflicting influence motivated by financial or political gain”.

The council says the terms of the Chipperfield Bequest allow the art to be sold to benefit the care and display of the existing collection, and says the roof repairs fall under those terms.

Matt Tucker, Southampton’s cabinet member for economic development and leisure services, said an independent trust would be “inconsistent” with the bequest’s terms.

He said the council had set up an independent advisory committee to “prevent any political conflicts of interest arising from the fact that councillors are also trustees”.

Tucker slammed the petition as being “full of factual inaccuracies”, saying: “The implication from the petition is that any funds from sales would fund non-art gallery projects. However, that is not our intention and any funds from any fundraising campaigns or (as a last resort) sales, would remain in the Chipperfield Bequest bank account, rather than the council’s general fund.”

The council has been advised by the Museums Association (MA) that, according to its code of ethics, financially motivated disposal is only allowed in exceptional circumstances for non-core items to improve the long-term public benefit of the remaining collection.

Maurice Davies, the MA’s head of policy, said: “I believe that councillor Tucker will do everything he can to endeavour to ensure the council meets the requirements of the code of ethics.

“Understandably, there is local concern about potential collections sales because the council has considered it in the past, for different reasons.

“I urge councillor Tucker and his colleagues to carefully explore all possible alternative options, as I feel there are likely to be other sources of investment in the art gallery.”

But others have questioned the council’s collections policy and criteria. Liz Goodall, former director of the city’s art gallery and member of the Chipperfield Advisory Committee, said: “Southampton Art Gallery is one of the only museums whose collection has been formed from the outset by a written policy.

"If it were to be rationalised properly, it would only be some low value work which had been given to the gallery which would fall outside the collection criteria.

“So how did high value works come to be selected for disposal? Because the motivation was to raise funds, not rationalise the collection.”

The council wrote to culture minister Ed Vaizey last year to ask that Accreditation rules regarding collections policy be relaxed to allow for more sales. The minister said there would be no change in the rules.

A public debate on the sell-off of the art collection was postponed earlier this month following objections that the £40 entry fee was preventing wider discussion and shutting out the views of the local community.

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