As the Black Lives Matter movement highlights the urgency within our public art institutions to address a lack of diversity in their collections and staffing structures, museums are charged with enabling new and critical reinterpretations of their collections, and ensuring that their displays of British art and cultural history are representative of the communities they serve.
A spate of recent reports, including Arts Council of England’s Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case (2018), have focused on the continuing under-representation of staff and leaders from black and minority ethnic backgrounds in the arts workforce and how greater diversity is essential to the future success of the cultural and creative ecosystem.
In 2018, the Black Artists & Modernism (BAM) Project published the findings of their audit of works by artists of African and Asian descent in public art collections in the UK. They discovered that while there are more than 2,000 works in 30 collections (11 national museums and galleries and 19 regional institutions), very few of these are ever seen by the public.
Through systemic discrimination and lack of knowledge of the artist, artwork and provenance, certain works become highlights while others lie forgotten in storage. This means that certain stories emerge while others remain unheard.
Within this wider political and cultural context, the Future Collect initiative seeks to provide a sustainable long-term platform to ask questions about power, representation and the civic role of public museums and galleries in the 21st century.
Future Collect, which is funded by Art Fund, Arts Council England and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, is a three-year partnership programme that each year commissions an artist of African and/or Asian descent, British born or based, to create a new work. These commissions then become a permanent part of the collection of a major British institution, giving artists an opportunity to be collected and exhibited, as well as contributing to a wider public debate on collections and whose heritage is being preserved.
In addition to the production of a public programme that underpins the critical context for the commissions, another key aspect of the project is curatorial development, primarily through the support of a year-long curatorial traineeship, as well as sector-wide learning opportunities, including study days and an annual conference.
Future Collect is managed by Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts), an evolving, radical visual arts organisation dedicated to developing an artistic programme that reflects on the social and political impact of globalisation and challenges conventional notions of diversity and difference.
Iniva’s partner for Year 1 of Future Collect is Manchester Art Gallery and Jade Montserrat is the first Future Collect commissioned artist.
Taking as her starting point the first work acquired by Manchester Art Gallery, James Northcote’s painting of the African American actor Ira Aldrige, Othello, The Moor of Venice (1826), Montserrat’s commission encompasses works on paper, a performance and a publication. In creatively responding to Manchester Art Gallery’s collection and collecting practices, she is pursuing pertinent questions around both the care of objects and the care of people.
Iniva is excited to announce an open call for expressions of interest from national and regional museums and galleries to partner with us on Year 2 of Future Collect. The deadline for expressions of interest is 21 September.
Further information here
Rohini Malik Okon is the curatorial project manager for Future Collect