In hock for a Hockney: 12,500 amateur collectors sign up to art loan scheme

By Arifa Akbar, Arts Correspondent
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The Independent Culture

If you imagined your appreciation of Anish Kapoor’s latest sculpture to be limited to an afternoon trip to Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, or that it was only the nation’s wealthiest who could afford to place a David Hockney etching or a Banksy print above their mantelpiece, you appear not to have made use of a loan scheme that allows ordinary mortals to purchase art.

Yesterday, Arts Council England (ACE) announced that 12,500 people in-the-know had made use of Own Art, which was launched nationally in 2004 by ACE, and which has given those with limited budgets the chance to acquire artworks by paying interest-free monthly installments for an original painting, print, photograph, sculpture, ceramic or item of contemporary jewellery which would otherwise have proved unaffordable.

The intention was to create greater public engagement with contemporary art and, five years later, it appears to have worked. Figures show that Own Art has enabled the public in England and Scotland to acquire £10.5m worth of artwork by such established figures as Howard Hodgkin, Peter Blake, Kapoor, Hockney, and a host of emerging artists.

When the scheme was launched, a poll conducted in England for ACE showed that, although 27 per cent would consider buying original art, less than 1 per cent actually had.

Mary-Alice Stack, development manager for ACE, said it especially benefited up-and-coming artists. “We wanted all those millions of viewers at Tate Modern to think about bringing art into their homes. It is also a very effective way to support the art infrastructure,” she said.

Loans of up to £2,000 are offered for buying original contemporary art from 250 galleries in England and 43 in Scotland. A customer can walk away with the artwork instantly and, if a piece costs over £2,000, the loan scheme can be used as part-payment.

Feedback from buyers suggests artworks are bought not as financial investments but as family treasures which brighten up the home.

Figures also found the scheme had provided a significant boost to galleries and artists. More than a quarter of sales (26.5 per cent) were to first-time buyers, with 26 per cent of loans being taken by customers with incomes equal to or below the national average (£22,500). Of those who used the scheme, over three-quarters (82 per cent) said that they could not have made their purchase without this special payment option.

Alan Davey, the chief executive of ACE, said it had created “new investors in art”.

Iwona Blazwick, director of the newly refurbished Whitechapel Gallery in east London, added that it proved an effective way for the public to start their own contemporary art collection.

Case study ‘I’d never been able to afford his work’

Suzie Hughes, 45, a retired NHS worker, bought a David Hockney etching for £400 earlier this year from the Artco Gallery in Leeds.

Having started collecting paintings, prints and contemporary jewellery some years ago, she had paid particular attention to artists from the North-west region. She had been a long-standing Hockney enthusiast but assumed his work would be priced well out of her spending range. You tend to think of art as inaccessible outside of a gallery context but as an avid art lover, I promised myself that I’d buy something … I’d been to Salt’s Mill [a gallery space in Saltaire, West Yorkshire] and seen the Hockneys there and thought I’d never been able to afford anything of his.

“Then, I heard Artco was holding an exhibition and I saw a Hockney that completely reminded me of my teenage son in bed. There was the Hockney connection and the family connection which made me smile.”

She has made use of the Own Art scheme numerous times, spending £1,500 over three years, and said it provides a reliable method by which to expand her collection, which includes a Damien Hirst print, bought for £1,000, and a Norman Ackroyd piece.

Case study ‘I certainly don’t miss the money’

Ian Lamming, 46, managing director of French & Lamming Media, has bought 12 paintings through the Arts Council scheme. He remembers buying his first Own Art-funded painting by Lou Harris, a North-east artist, for £900.

“It had a little figure of a man on the horizon with his hands in his pockets who looks very alone. At the time, I had just begun my own business and it felt bleak. The painting leapt out at me. It summed up how I felt about walking into an unknown future on my own. I still think it is poignant and it hangs in my living room,” he said.

The work is now estimated to be worth £3,000. Since then, he has invested in several other works not as an investment but purely for the “aesthetic pleasure”.

Two years ago, he bought a Banksy print for £190 as a wedding gift for friends, which is now worth around £7,500.

“Art is an absolute luxury and I could not justify spending £2,000 in one go. But spreading the cost across a year, I barely notice the money leaving the account and I certainly don’t miss it.”