Police action possible over missing works of art from 1,200-piece ACNI collection.
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) has come in for swingeing criticism over the management of its £2.7m visual art collection. A report into the 1,200-piece collection by the Northern Ireland Audit Office has uncovered a number of problems including missing items, poor storage conditions, maladministration and a lack of co-ordination between ACNI and other publicly owned art collections. The damning report calls for a complete overhaul of the management of ACNIs art collection and immediate investigation of the missing works of art. The report records a history of losses and poor record-keeping: over the past 15 years, more than 100 works of art have been lost or written off from the collection. Last year, ACNI identified 52 works of art with a current market value of £28,000 which could not be traced. This follow-up process will now involve contacting former borrowers, other institutions and auction houses and where necessary, recourse to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
ACNIs collection, begun in 1943, includes paintings, prints, ceramics, photographs and sculptures. It was developed to raise awareness and interest in visual art in Northern Ireland with the aim of promoting the artists, and encouraging the purchasing and commissioning of further work. The works were purchased to be displayed in public buildings, with the intention of providing patronage, support and publicity for living artists of merit. Due to budgetary restrictions, purchasing for the collection stopped in 2000. The decision was then taken for the collection to be gifted to museums and galleries across Northern Ireland. The report found that, due to administrative hold-ups, this gifting process has not yet begun. It also noted that approximately half of the collection is currently held in storage in conditions that are less than ideal and that council staff have no access to the storeroom where the pieces are held.
The Audit Office also investigated ACNIs management of the now defunct Partnership Purchasing Scheme (PPS) through which it assisted others to purchase works of art. This uncovered widespread uncertainty about works of art which had been purchased, and 56 works acquired under the PPS either could not be accounted for or required follow up. A further 39 works of art had been written off in recent years, but the audit failed to uncover any paperwork to explain why this had happened.
ACNI acknowledged that the Audit Offices report was very thorough and recognised a number of historical failures in its collection management system. In a statement, it expressed regret that works were written off and others remain unaccounted for. However, today we have in place an excellent electronic collection management system which fully addresses the concerns raised within the report& To put things in perspective, the Arts Councils collection isnt a museum-style collection& By its nature, the Arts Council collection is available to the public, on display across many public buildings and it carries risks that are different to those of a museum collection& The Council continues to search for missing items and will exhaust every avenue of opportunity.