53 Million Artsits raises some important (and difficult) questions about art and its place in our society in 2014. The aim of promoting a national conversation is desirable; but one of the things that perhaps makes this project so challenging is the tendency for any critique of the status quo to be all-too-easily mis-read as an attack on what is so good about ‘the arts’ in England (and elsewhere) at the moment. There is probably more effort being put in to give more opportunities for more people to share art than ever before. A great example is the ‘Your Paintings’ initiative – a joint venture between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation and participating collections and museums from across the UK. This is what Your Paintings explain squalifies a painting to be in the UK National Collection:
Paintings owned by the state and local authorities together with those held in charitable trusts for the benefit of the public make up the national collection shown on the Your Paintings website. In addition, a small number of important collections that are not in public ownership nor normally open to the public are also being included. For example this will include paintings in Bishop’s palaces and Oxford and Cambridge colleges.
Local authority and national museum collections make up the majority of the institutions represented. Paintings held by universities, hospitals, town halls, local libraries and even a lighthouse are also on the site. The site also includes collections held by national organisations such the National Trust, English Heritage, the Government Art Collection and Arts Council England.
It is a wonderful resource, and well worth taking a stroll through its virtual corridors. But, of course, 53 Million Artists also challenges us to think afresh about all those great paintings being created up and down the country by artists who don’t feature in any such established collections. Might they be worthy of such celebration (and bigger audiences) too?