Firms begin to value art for workers' sake

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For many in the cut-throat world of commerce, works of art have traditionally meant little more than good investment opportunities.

Now there are signs that the business community is beginning to value art for art's sake - as shown by the number of firms renting "instant" collections.

Julian Thomas of Art Contact, which hires out paintings and other works to companies, confirmed yesterday there was a trend towards hiring art for the workplace.

"There is definitely a growing interest, and the number of inquiries for rental is growing all the time."

Many of the works of art tend to be abstract, and although a number are from lesser-known artists, some rented pieces include screenprints by the well-known painter Bert Irvin and work by John Houlston, who was commissioned to produce a sculpture of Archbishop Desmond Tutu two years ago.

The concept involves a company hiring a collection - a minimum of 10 pictures - for a fixed period, with the firm then being given the option to buy the works or continue renting.

According to Mr Thomas, the commercial advantages for a firm in renting include payments which are fully tax-deductable, and flexibility; the pictures can be swapped if clients don't like them. They are also used to "impress" business clients, he said.

But there are also aesthetic reasons for hiring the art. "The use of art makes [the office] a more pleasant place to work in," said Mr Thomas.

UPS Worldwide Logistics, which describes itself as a provider of integrated logistical solutions to businesses, started renting art when it moved into a new building in St Albans, Hertfordshire, last July.

The firm's business support manager, Victoria Edward, said there were 15 works in the collection, with a capital value of around pounds 5,000, which they were hiring for pounds 47 a week. She said when they took over the building it was little more than a shell.

"We wanted to make it lively without going over the top. Some of them were very colourful - it would have been bland without them on the walls."