UK Makes Its Entire Public Art Collection Accessible Online

The democratization of art is underway.

Photo: Art UK
Photo: Art UK
Art UK was launched to make public artworks accessible. Photo: Art UK

Art UK was launched to make public artworks accessible.
Photo: Art UK

Yesterday, February 24, the UK launched an ambitious platform to catalog the country’s entire publicly-owned art collection online.

The innovative initiative known as Art UK seeks to promote public accessibility to over 3,000 of the nation’s public collections as well as selected privately owned collections.

Although the website is still very much a work in progress, the database already includes every publicly-owned oil painting across the UK; over 200,000 artworks in total.

In the summer watercolors, drawings, and other media will be progressively added to the database, and in 2017, the nation’s sculptural holdings will follow—aided by a £2.8 million pledge from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The vast database already contains every oil paining in UK public collections. Photo: Art UK

The vast database already contains every oil paining in UK public collections.
Photo: Art UK

An early version of the site known as Your Paintings was first made accessible on the BBC website. But after five years, the format outgrew its audience of over 300,000 visitors a month and the registered charity Art UK (previously known as the Public Catalogue Foundation) was founded to continue the work.

“We are immensely proud of the progress we have made in democratizing access to the UK’s art collection,” Andrew Ellis, director of Art UK said in a statement […] Our ambition now is to add many more artworks, in a variety of media, to the Art UK platform and inspire audiences to engage with them and, where possible, visit them for real.”

UK culture minister Ed Vaizey said, “Art UK is a fantastic example of using innovation and technology to make art accessible to all. The UK is home to world-class collections and I hope that this project encourages even more people around the world to enjoy our great cultural offering.”

The site is supported by the taxpayer-funded Arts Council England as well as the Scottish Government and a private charitable trust.

Despite being digitally accessible, the large number of publicly-owned artworks that remain hidden behind the doors of government buildings and in storage facilities is still a source of frustration.

In January, the UK’s shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport Michael Dugher called for the UK’s public art collection to be showcased in a free public gallery, so they can be enjoyed by everyone and not just a “privileged few.”


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