#InConversationWith Art UK

We caught up with Louise Pavoni, Digital Marketing Manager at Art UK to discuss how making art accessible to all is their top priority. Discover their fascinating journey as a charity - from digitising over 220,000 artworks from locations across the UK by nearly 40,000 artists to the launch of their ambitious sculpture project - below!


Eight years ago, if you wanted to find out about a painting in the UK’s public collection, where would you begin your search? Google would have guided you to the institution where the work was held, that’s if the painting had been digitised or even recorded on their website. Failing that, the situation became tricky. For many art lovers, discovering the art we owned was a challenge.

Photo credit: John Cairns

Photo credit: John Cairns

Enter Art UK. Our small cultural education charity evolved from the Public Catalogue Foundation with a mission to democratise access to the nation’s public art collection. The UK holds one of the largest and most diverse collections of art in the world, but around 80% of the artworks in public ownership are not on show. At Art UK, we’re gradually adding thousands of records to our growing database on artuk.org so that everyone in the UK and beyond can explore our rich cultural heritage – for enjoyment, learning or research.

Photo credit: Iona Shepherd

Photo credit: Iona Shepherd

As museums and galleries face increasing financial constraints, Art UK works with public collections to provide a shared, sustainable digital infrastructure for over 3,250 institutions to showcase their artworks, promote their exhibitions and even generate vital income through the Art UK Shop. Most of these collections would not be able to put their art online without Art UK.

We’re incredibly proud of the journey the charity has made since our foundation 16 years ago, digitising over 220,000 artworks from locations across the UK by nearly 40,000 artists. Since September 2016, we have been adding works on paper to the site – watercolours, prints and drawings – and February saw the launch of Art UK’s ambitious sculpture project.

Marchesa Casati, c.1918, bronze by Jacob Epstein (1880–1959), © the artist's estate/Tate Images. Photo credit: Southend Museums Service

Marchesa Casati, c.1918, bronze by Jacob Epstein (1880–1959), © the artist's estate/Tate Images. Photo credit: Southend Museums Service

By the end of 2020, the UK will become the first country in the world to create a free online photographic showcase of its publicly owned sculpture. According to the American artist Ad Reinhardt, ‘Sculpture is something you bump into when you back up to look at the painting’. We hope that the project changes long-held perceptions that sculpture is the poor relation of ‘flat art’. Quite the opposite – sculpture is a wonderful window into our history. Look around you – in our parks, streets and squares, and you will see sculpture everywhere. Yet we know very little about the UK’s public collection.

Eve, bronze by Auguste Rodin (1840–1917). Photo credit: Tracy Jenkins/Art UK

Eve, bronze by Auguste Rodin (1840–1917). Photo credit: Tracy Jenkins/Art UK

We’re incredibly excited to see the project take off. The first 4,700 records of up to 150,000 sculptures are now available on Art UK for global audiences to enjoy. We couldn’t do this without our large team of dedicated project staff, photographers and hundreds of volunteers who are travelling across the country to digitise the sculptures.

Jaron James photographing Henry Moore's 'Harlow Family Group'. Photo credit: Art UK

Jaron James photographing Henry Moore's 'Harlow Family Group'. Photo credit: Art UK

Did you know about the cheeky side to Renaissance art, or that Rembrandt was the king of the selfie? Have you picked up on the references to American art in The Simpsons? As part of our mission to bring art to everyone, we use articles and podcasts to tell new stories and make new connections. We try to make art relevant to everyone and draw in themes from everyday life, to inspire people, surprise them and even make them laugh.

For the curious art enthusiasts and specialists, Art Detective is the go-to forum for delving into the unsolved mysteries of the art world. For collections with gaps in their records, the platform is a hugely valuable resource. The community has made hundreds of exciting discoveries so far, including tracking down the identity of the artist and sitter who was hiding in plain sight throughout the hunt.

Photo credit: John Cairns

Photo credit: John Cairns

What’s next for Art UK? Our focus is growing the number of sculptures on the site – as well as works on paper, developing inspiring content to tell the stories behind the art and raising the profile of our young organisation. And by continuing to work closely with our partners to promote these fantastic collections, we hope that more people can enjoy the art we own – both online and in their local gallery.

words by Louise Pavoni, Digital Marketing Manager Art UK

* * *
Thanks for reading! You can find out more about Art UK by visiting their website: www.artuk.org