U.K. Loan Program Encourages Art Ownership

A new program funded by the British government offers interest-free loans to residents of the United Kingdom who want to buy contemporary artwork. Madeleine Brand speaks with Mary-Alice Stack, development manager of the innovative program Own Art, which promotes art appreciation and ownership among average citizens.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Art collecting has long been an activity for the rich, but the British government is trying to change that. It's funding a program called Own Art, and that offers interest-free loans to people who want to buy contemporary work from British artists. Joining me now to talk about it is its development manager, Mary-Alice Stack.

And, Ms. Stack, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Ms. MARY-ALICE STACK (Development Manager, Own Art): Thank you very much.

BRAND: So how much assistance do you provide? What are the details of your program?

Ms. STACK: Well, the scheme is open to anyone who is a UK resident, and they can apply for a loan of between a hundred and 2,000 pounds, and they can use that loan to purchase or commission of piece of work, be it a painting, a photograph, a sculpture or any type of art by a living artist.

BRAND: So up to 2,000 pounds; that's about $3,500.

Ms. STACK: That's right.

BRAND: And how do you verify that they actually buy art with the money?

Ms. STACK: The scheme is only available through a network of member galleries which have been approved by the Arts Council as appropriate outlets through which to operate the scheme. So it's not that the individual applies for the loan and then goes out shopping. They need to actually go into a registered gallery and select a piece of work from what's on show and then ask the retailer to give them an Own Art loan as their payment option.

BRAND: And what's the purpose? What's the point of this?

Ms. STACK: The broad aim is to attract additional income to strengthen the contemporary art market, but the scheme wins on three levels. First of all, it's encouraging new audiences for contemporary art and enabling people to have ownership of the art that they may only to date have looked at in museums or galleries and not considered owning themselves. The second level on which it operates is that it's providing a more sustainable income for living artists based in the UK. And the third element is that it is helping support the galleries that represent those artists. So for every Own Art loan that is granted, the customer benefits, the artist benefits and the venue benefits by having increased turnover.

BRAND: And how long has this been in operation?

Ms. STACK: The scheme was launched in November 2004 under the Own Art brand, but it had been operating since April of 2004 under a provisional title of the national art purchase plan. So far it's facilitated 2.5 million pounds' worth of art sales in the UK, and it's been used by around 4,000 customers.

BRAND: Are you afraid of any defaults on the loans?

Ms. STACK: The default rate has been incredibly low. It's been less than 1 percent. And the scheme is operated with the HFC Bank, which is a subsidiary of HSBC, and so this bank verifies the customer before granting the loan. It is a bank loan; you do need to go through a credit check in order to be approved.

BRAND: And I'm wondering, have you personally bought any artwork through this program?

Ms. STACK: Not yet, but I'm planning to. The scheme is about to roll out in London. To date it's been restricted to the regions of England in order that the funding was helping to foster regionalized economies, but we're just about to launch in London, and I'm a Londoner, so I've been waiting for that opportunity to go out and buy a piece of art myself. That's going to happen 1st of January; we're launching the scheme in London with about 40 member galleries.

BRAND: Do you have a piece of art in mind?

Ms. STACK: Actually, I'm looking for a drawing, and that's the next piece that I want to get, but I don't know by which artist yet. But I'm a collector of paintings, photography and ceramics already, so drawing's my next plan.

BRAND: Mary-Alice Stack is development director of Own Art. It's an initiative funded by Arts Council England that offers interest-free loans to people interested in buying contemporary art.

And thank you for joining us.

Ms. STACK: Thank you very much.

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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