The Institute of New International Visual Arts (INIVA) - inspired by post-war migration and the breaking-down of cultural boundaries - sets out to place artists from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia alongside their European and American peers. Although the council has, since 1987, supported 'initiatives in cultural diversity', it feels that they have not kept pace with the achievements of black artists in the West.
Sarah Wason, senior visual arts officer at the Arts Council, said that the INIVA 'will mark out new terrain in contemporary culture'.
The venture moved on from cultural prototypes in the United States which explore 'singular cultural histories' such as the Latin American and the Afro-American, she said. In setting up INIVA, the intention was to move away from the mainstream and take a new look at society and the interplay of different cultures. Artists of all colours, including white, would be shown together.
Anthony Everitt, secretary-general of the Arts Council, said: 'This global approach to the visual arts is unique and we are calling it the New Internationalism.' Two consultants, David Powell, former manager of arts, leisure and tourism for the London Docklands Development Corporation, and Richard Francis, who oversaw the development of the Tate Gallery in Liverpool, have been appointed to lead the building development.
Potential London sites are being investigated.
INIVA has come about after extensive research by Gavin Jantjes, the artist, and Sarah Wason. Initially, pounds 277,500 has been allocated, to employ a development consultant and offer three exhibition franchises; eventually, INIVA will be funded at the same level as other revenue clients - pounds 400,000 to pounds 450,000 a year.
As well as research and educational programmes, the organisation intends to stage a minimum of six exhibitions a year (ranging from painting to performance art); each of which will tour to other galleries in Britain and abroad. Three franchises have been awarded for a series of exhibitions and publications over three years.
Among artists to be seen are Emily Andersen and Renee Tobe, who work together confronting medical subjects. Their series of works, The Ladies Cabinet, examined home remedies for women since the 17th century.
Although the Tate Gallery collection does have a few works by 'artists of colour', a spokeswoman said: 'We don't discriminate positively and we don't discriminate negatively. Our choice is not based on colour.'
However, as Sunil Gupta, one of the franchise holders, put it: 'My understanding is that this is not about colour but the way we consider art history altogether. The Tate shows people of colour who fit into a particular reading of art history in the West. We want to move away from nationalism and get away from the idea that there's such a thing as Indian art. We're living in a global village.'