Art collecting opens up to the masses

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The Independent Online

They are the new generation of art collectors - but without the luxury lifestyle to match. In less than two years, almost £3m has been loaned interest-free to members of the public to help them buy original contemporary artwork, opening up collecting to a new audience.

In the way electrical retailers offer credit on televisions or kitchen appliances, art galleries are abandoning the stuffy image of old by tabling affordable deals to potential buyers. An Arts Council-sponsored scheme, Own Art, lends up to £2,000 interest-free, paid back in 10 monthly instalments. Since April 2004, more than £2.8m has been loaned to 4,000 buyers at 250 galleries.

One satisfied first-time buyer is Hannah Fenton, 22, from Cambridge. She bought Jubilant, an eight-inch, ceramic sculpture by Eoghan Bridge, for £175 at the Cambridge Contemporary Art gallery in October. "I can't afford £175 but I can afford £15 a month," she said. "The scheme removes a barrier between you and the work; art shouldn't be the preserve of the rich."

The Arts Council got involved after a report in 2002 found 27 per cent of the population would consider buying original art but an elitist image and high prices meant only 1 per cent had. An Arts Council spokeswoman said: "More people are thinking of bringing original art into their homes and it is helping develop markets outside London. We expect it will grow and grow."

Camilla Rodwell, the director of the Hunter Gallery in Long Melford, Suffolk, said: "People are starting quite serious collections because it is such an affordable way of buying. It entices them in and makes them realise that galleries aren't such scary places after all."

Own Art is being extended to 36 London galleries this month.

Richard and Bryony Jackson: 'Art is nicer than a 42-inch TV set'

Richard and Bryony Jackson, 40 and 23, from Broadstone, Dorset, bought four paintings using the Arts Council loans from the Marine House gallery in Beer, Devon, after wandering in when on holiday.

"Three of them are by an artist we like called John Hammond, an impressionist who paints in acrylics," said Mr Jackson, a joiner by trade. "Our favourite is Ultramarine Benodet which we bought for £3,650 four months ago. Owning art is much nicer than having a 42-inch plasma-screen television.

"I would have baulked at coughing up £3,000 or £4,000 because it's a lot of money to spend on a painting. But if the Arts Council will help you with half of it, then that's fantastic."

Edward Silver: 'The loans can help enrich our lives'

Edward and Vicky Silver, 38 and 33, live in Long Melford, Suffolk. They bought Unscathed Balnakiel, a mixed-media beachscape painting by the US artist Dorothy Bruce, for £1,300 from the Hunter Gallery, paying a 10 per cent deposit and 10 monthly payments of £117. "I'm not high-salaried and don't have a lot of disposable income, but we love art," said Mr Silver, who runs a bed-and-breakfast. "We saw the picture in the window and fell in love with it. But we didn't have the money to buy it, so when the gallery told us about the interest-free loan we decided to get it. "These loans can encourage people to buy art, enriching their lives and make them think a bit."

Paul Chapman: 'It's a pleasure to own unique work'

Paul Chapman, 44, an analytical chemist from Newcastle upon Tyne, has bought six David Shanahan paintings from the Biscuit Factory in the past two years, four through Own Art.

"It's a pleasure to have unique pieces of original artwork around you," he said. "It's soothing to look at them - better than the television sometimes.

"The system has boosted my interest in art. I would use it again if I hadn't run out of wallspace."