Council-owned art not going on public display

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Councils throughout the UK have an art collection worth nearly £1.9 billion. Despite many local authorities pleading poverty, council curators are holding onto billions of pounds worth of art while only displaying less than a third of what they own.

It's been revealed by the Taxpayers Alliance that on average, less than a third of council-owned artwork is on display. This could include being in a public building, art work such as sculptures installed in town centres or in public museums and galleries.

However the picture in the West Midlands is worse, with some councils only displaying 4%.

Shropshire Council owns 3,367 pieces of art, worth £1.109 million - but only 120 are available to the public.

Meanwhile Wolverhampton City Council has bought 26 new art works since 2016 - but has a tenth of their total collection on display.

Wyre Forest is one of the worst performing in the country - showing only 3.7% to the public.

Darwin Friend, researcher at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Of course there are instances where councils have been donated art or are forbidden from selling, but surely town hall leaders ought to be making the most of what they have by putting as much on display as practically possible for residents to enjoy?  

Some councils are able to maximise value for money by maintaining collections which are small enough to be displayed for the enjoyment of the public at all times. Other local authorities hoarding their own mystery masterpieces should be following in their footsteps."

A spokesperson from Wolverhampton Council said "About 10% of our collections are on display. Some items for reasons of conservation are necessarily limited to short periods of public display.

The collections rotate regularly, and our reserve collections are available to view in our store by appointment. Items from the gallery are also at times loaned to other galleries for specific exhibitions, or on a longer-term basis, and on a similar basis the gallery can receive loans from other galleries for specific exhibitions."

Alison Bakr, Wyre Forest District Council’s Bewdley Museum manager said: “We keep our displays as fresh as possible by rotating our artwork and holding a number of temporary exhibits throughout the year.  We have just under 1,000 pieces of artwork at Bewdley Museum but due to space we’re unable to display it all at one time, so anyone wishing to view our oil paintings can do so online at https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/view_as/grid/search/keyword:bewdley-museum/page/4.”

We have reached out to Shropshire Council for a comment.

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