Own Art Scheme Encourages Collectors

Can't afford that special something this Christmas? The Arts Council is here to help

Public sector workers have gone on strike, the euro teeters on the brink of collapse and the banks suggest another credit crunch may be on the cards. All this and Christmas just a few weeks away...

With financial anxieties so prominent in the minds of consumers, the thought of buying a piece of art is perhaps more daunting now than ever. However, for those with their eyes on a particular something, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland is here to help.

The Own Art scheme offers interest free loans of up to £2,000 to ease the strain on art buyers. Available in the rest of the UK since 2004, over 350 galleries have seen 21,000 works purchased, generating sales of £17.5 million. This money has been a much needed shot in the arm for artists and galleries alike, encouraging the ACNI to pilot the scheme in Northern Ireland.

‘It has been a great success,’ says Dr Suzanne Lyle, head of visual arts at the ACNI. ‘Over the last five years there has been £7.8 million worth of income generated for artists. That’s not even the total sales, just what comes back to the artists. It has just so much potential and I think it should be a part of the everyday gallery experience.

‘Times are tough. They’re tough for the galleries, they’re tough for the artists,’ she concedes. ‘They’re tough for all of us, but this is one way in which we can help. In a time that is difficult for galleries and artists to sell art and the public are worried how they are going to pay for it, this scheme makes it straightforward and a lot easier.’

To those hooked on a routine of buy now pay later, the Own Art scheme is welcome news. Essentially, it means buying a piece of art in the same way that you would a car or fridge freezer, in instalments. It is, perhaps, not to everyone's taste. Some may argue, for example, that such a scheme contributes to reducing the mystique and cultural cachet of art. Does Lyle agree?

‘I don’t think so. You could have gone out in previous years and taken out a loan directly with your bank and bought these things. I don’t see that there’s any difference. This scheme saves you going to the hassle of trying banks or looking elsewhere. Here you have an interest free loan as the consumer, and that to me seems ideal and makes the art more accessible.’

The Own Art loan can be paid off over a ten month period, and each gallery should have that monthly fee displayed beside the artworks. So, rather than pay £400 up front, an art work can be paid off at £40 a month.

There is one caveat. The artworks that the Own Art scheme applies to are limited to those by contemporary artists, so don’t go thinking you can get yourself a bargain on a John Lavery.

The emphasis is very much on living artists, in keeping with the ACNI's dedicated work in nurturing and supporting working artists. So, prospective collectors could splash out on Jonathan Aiken, Rita Duffy or Willie Doherty, but consumers can just as likely take a punt on a rising artist.

This new kind of payment scheme has brought a new kind of art buyer to the market. Arts Council England found a quarter of all Own Art loan applications are first time buyers. 82% of customers surveyed over five years said that the scheme enabled them to make a purchase that they couldn’t have otherwise afforded.

The Own Art scheme is currently piloting in Northern Ireland in just four galleries: White Image in Hillsborough, Gormleys branches in Omagh and Belfast, and the Emer Gallery in Belfast. It will spread out to other galleries as the year progresses.

Although the scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland just a few weeks ago, it has already shown results.

‘We were delighted to have had two sales in the first week alone,’ enthuses Oliver Gormley. ‘Although Own Art has only recently been offered to our clients, we are very encouraged by the response and would tell anybody who is curious regarding the scheme to get in touch. It can provide great opportunities for people to own art.

‘Like all markets the art sector has been affected by the recession, but the desire for people to own a piece of art has not diminished,’ adds Gormley, who believes that the Own Art scheme can only be a positive thing. ‘Clients are just more cautious when it comes to their expenditure.’

If you’re looking for a Christmas present for a special someone, or maybe something to brighten up the home during the winter gloom, the possibility of buying an original art work is now much more realistic. It can be fine art that sits on a wall, it can be ceramics or photography or prints. Own Art allows consumers to spread beauty and the cost alike.

Visit the Own Art scheme website for more information.