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British Arts Council offers free loans to art buyers
Provincial galleries already sold successfully under the pilot scheme

Last month the Arts Council in Britian launched Own Art, a new interest-free loan scheme for art buyers in England. The idea is to encourage people, particularly those living outside London, to buy contemporary art, paintings and also sculpture, photography and the decorative arts.

Under the scheme, buyers can borrow up to £2,000 and pay back in monthly interest-free installments. The 250 participating galleries are spread across the country, most of them outside London, the idea being to boost art buying outside the capital. And while London galleries often offer payment terms, this is rarer in the provinces.

The Arts Council, a publicly-funded body which supports the arts in England, did its groundwork before launching Own Art, which gathers together a disparate group of schemes that were already running around the country. “It’s been hugely successful,” says participant Lynne Strover, whose eponymous gallery in Cambridgeshire shows mainly figurative painting. “Everyone has been delighted, and I have sold over 100 paintings through the scheme. It enables buyers to go the extra mile on cost, and now some have created a sort of rolling fund. The moment they have finished paying for one work, they come in and say, ‘I can have another one now’”.

Andy Balman, managing director of the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle is the biggest user of the scheme and has sold works at the rate of four a week for the last two years. Confirming Ms Strover’s words, he says “A lot of our customers now see the monthly cost as part of their budget and collect that way”. Eric Winnert, assistant at the Cupola Gallery in Sheffield, is equally enthusiastic. “It is one of our main selling features, and really makes a difference, and it is simple as well. We have sold over 30 works in the last eight months under the scheme, mainly paintings”.

“The art market outside London is underdeveloped yet we know there is enormous scope for growth. Many more people will now be able to enjoy living with original, high-quality contemporary art in their own homes. Art needn’t be restricted to big white-painted gallery spaces,” said Sir Christopher Frayling, Chair of Arts Council England at the launch last month; “We want the arts to be at the heart of our national life and I believe that Own Art can bring about a real change in the way we engage with the contemporary visual arts.

Let us hope that the Irish Arts council and Irish politicians are taking note of this scheme and that perhaps they might consider introducing the same scheme on this side of the Irish sea. Wishfull thinking..I hear you say! and maybe so. But if for no other reason, then let us hope they will consider it simply because it is their job to find new ways in which to promote and help Irish artists sell their work and further to develope the Irish art market both internally and internationally. The added bonus is that, as in Britian, it would allow Irelands already hard pressed younger homeowners the opportunity to purchase original artworks, to grace the walls of their new homes, instead of the god awful imported reproduction machine processed paintings, bad quality impressionist prints and mass produced so called art which is currently being purchased due to financial constraints. It would also help to create an appreciation of art amongst a new generation and make art ownership accessible to all. Perhaps Irish policy makers might even decide to improve on the workings of the british scheme with a little lateral thought.