The Arts Council Collection is unique in character. Managed on the Arts Council’s behalf by the Southbank Centre, it consists of nearly 8,000 pieces. Fuelled by a tiny annual budget (currently just under £200,000) and benefiting from donations, it acquires work by living British or British-based artists, selected by a small panel of experts.
Over the years, the buying has been brilliant: many purchases have been presciently made early in an artist’s career, and it is hard to think of a single major figure, from Moore, Hepworth, Freud and Riley to Wallinger, Ofili, McQueen and Tillmans, who isn’t handsomely represented.
The problem is one of circulation. The Arts Council collection has never had a permanent home, and at any one time about three quarters of the collection is locked up in a secret location. Theoretically, however, all its holdings are constantly available to be lent out, either singly or as curated exhibitions, not only to galleries or museums, but hospitals, schools, libraries, charities and National Trust properties as well.