Why we’re only allowed to see 3% of Leeds’s art treasures

Alex Robertson of Leeds City Art Gallery in the gallery stores.
Alex Robertson of Leeds City Art Gallery in the gallery stores.
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COUNCILS have been challenged to let the public see more of their art collections or consider selling artworks after research showed only a tiny fraction was put on display.

Of the 5.5m items, worth an estimated £2.3bn held by local authorities, only around three per cent of their collections are on public display.


Leeds City Council had the highest value art collection in the region, worth £150m, according to a freedom of information request by the TaxPayers’ Alliance. Of the 30,754 items, 1,118 are displayed, or around 3.5 per cent.

Chief executive Jonathan Isaby, said: “Yorkshire’s councils are around the national average when it comes to how much of their artwork is on display, but nonetheless the small amount available to the public will stagger taxpayers. Councils must make more of an effort to let the public see the art and also have a proper discussion about whether there are some pieces of art, currently gathering dust, that could be offered for sale to see if there is interest; the money could then be used to support frontline services.”

However Hull Council leader Steve Brady condemned the TA as “right wing zealots that would strip the country of anything of cultural worth.”

Leed’s lead member for museums and galleries Coun Brian Selby said the collection at Leeds Art Gallery had been described as probably one of the best collections of British 20th century art outside London. He added: “We have no intention of selling any of it off. We’ve got over half a million items in our care with much on display over our nine sites, and certainly more than the three per cent suggested.

“We work hard to ensure collections are displayed on rotation or as part of exhibitions. We also loan items locally, in the UK and across the world. Leeds is also home to one the country’s best picture libraries so people can display and enjoy art at home.”