Is our Island artwork in the frame for income?

By Charlotte Hofton

Friday, December 13, 2013


THE VIEW FROM HERE ARTIST David Hockney is less than impressed with his council in Bradford. Following suggestions some of its art collection should be sold to raise money for social care and offset the results of cuts in children’s services, Hockney turned seriously grumpy.

"I’ve almost given up on Bradford. This would do it," he told his local paper.

Surely nobody here would give up on the IW?

Well, that rather depends. I don’t know how much our councillors follow events in other local authorities but they should shut their ears to the siren call of those Bradford councillors who favour trundling down to the auction rooms and flogging off items from their art collection.

Bradford’s Lib Dem group leader, Cllr Jeanette Sunderland, makes a seductive case for this measure. Detailing the cuts forced upon the Labour-run authority, affecting the elderly and disabled as well as young people and children, she concluded: "Maybe what they want to do is sell some of this art collection that we actually just tuck away and pay insurance on."

Some would think she has a point. Bradford’s art collection consists of more than 4,000 works, much of it in storage, and including 195 items valued together at more than £30m.

The implications of insuring this lot must give Bradford council a considerable headache, notwithstanding the furrowed brows caused by social cuts. Why not solve both problems at once?

Now, our own council store cupboard isn’t short of the odd painting or two. In fact, there’s a whole stash of artworks and assorted cultural treasures tucked away, never seen by the public from one year to the next.

Much of it is contained in a mysterious site at Cothey Bottom, somewhere at the back of Tesco’s, viewing discouraged and only by appointment. Somewhere there’s a fabulous store of marine artefacts and artworks, which lay for years unseen in the roof of Cowes Library. Does anyone have news of it today? Anyone managed to clap eyes on it? No, thought not.

So why not sell off some of these artworks, which nobody ever looks at, and boost the council’s coffers so we all benefit?

Speaking on BBC4’s Front Row programme, Dame Liz Forgan, chairman of the Arts Council, had this to say. "Selling your art is not a solution. It may keep the lunch clubs open this year but the collection’s gone for ever. You don’t sell the family silver to buy yourself a ham sandwich … [The collection] is a gift from the past to the future."

The loss, she believes, would be "not just in a material sense but from the pride and ownership of the people of your local authority."

Acknowledging the problem to be a "terrible dilemma", she suggested local authorities should consider how the collection could be less of a drain on resources.

"Can we lend it for a fee to people? Can we form a trust that will have access to money?"

She also warned of the dangers of selling artworks without scrupulous consideration.

"If you [sell] for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way, you will never get another grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund or the Arts Council."

Any IW council, whether the present or future regimes, should heed these words.

Of course the welfare of people matters. But "pride and ownership" also matter. The Island owns a magnificent collection, of which we should be proud. We don’t get to see the vast bulk of it. But that is no reason even to think of selling it.

And if our local council could be imaginative enough to turn these unseen treasures into something which would actually pull in some income and make it more accessible, so much the better.

The IW Council tends not to have much imagination. It can probably only think of two options. Leaving everything round the back of Tesco’s or selling some usefully valuable items.

If that’s as far as its imagination goes, then surely it can stir itself to find somebody on the Island with vision. And if that’s impossible, we might as well join David Hockney and just give up.

A festive vision I could do without

AN earworm is a piece of music (usually one you don’t even much like) which stays remorselessly in your head long after you’ve listened to it.

This phenomenon is particularly prevalent at Christmas, with shops playing merry jingles on a continuous loop. A few bars of Little Donkey and you may be stuck with it well into the new year.

I’ve now discovered something which might be described as a visionworm. Following a recent trade delegation led by David Cameron, Britain has secured a £45 million deal to export pig semen to China.

Believe me, I really, really, don’t want to think of what £45 million-worth of pig semen might look like. But somehow I can’t get it out of my mind.

I foresee a nightmare Christmas, with a visionworm of mountainous pig semen, accompanied by Cliff Richard singing Mistletoe and Wine in my ears, as I try to enjoy my festive dinner.

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