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Public to see 'hidden' art collection it has paid for since 1963

By Rebecca Black

One of Northern Ireland's hidden art collections is going on tour. The Civil Service Art Collection - which comprises more than 1,400 pieces and is valued at more than £2m - is mostly kept in storage or displayed in Government buildings.

Now Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir has announced it is to be added to for the first time in more than a decade, and will be going on display across public buildings such as schools and hospitals.

The most valuable works - 42 paintings ranging in value from £7,000 to £85,000 - are on display across Stormont Castle, Parliament Buildings, Massey House, Castle Buildings, Dundonald House, Netherleigh and the Executive Offices in Brussels.

Mr O Muilleoir set up an art advisory panel to present recommendations for the future of the collection.

It has proposed a series of exhibitions, a programme of procurement with a budget of £40,000, the creation of records for each piece, and the setting up of a website detailing the art.

Launching the report yesterday, Mr O Muilleoir said: "I am excited to announce that I will be bringing the Civil Service Art Collection out to the public and engaging with the community to bring our art into places where it has not been seen before.

"I am committed to ensuring the art is promoted as a living collection.

"The art advisory panel has brought forward exciting proposals about how we might open up the collection to the widest possible audience, which I have accepted.

"I plan to bring the collection to our young and old people, those in schools, libraries, what you might describe as untraditional spaces.

"This initiative recognises the historic and cultural importance of the Civil Service collection, which should be available to be seen by the people, who have, after all, paid for it." The panel was led by Roisin McDonough, the chief executive of the Arts Council of NI.

She said: "I can say resolutely this is one of Northern Ireland's most important collections containing many significant works by our leading artists. Indeed, an image of Colin Middleton's Boats In Harbour graces the report's front cover, while work by mother and son painters Catherine and Simon McWilliams, as well as Micky Donnelly and Lawson Burch, are displayed within.

"Our recommendations are aimed at helping increase public access to these wonderful artworks in the hope that they may be seen by many more people.

"Whether building digital gallery space for the collection through a website, supporting a procurement and commissioning programme for the work of emerging artists, or developing loan schemes and public tours in schools and libraries, this collection must be curated and displayed appropriately and celebrated for its gorgeous and challenging content."

The Civil Service Art Collection was established in 1963.

Since 2004 no new work has been purchased and added to the collection.

It is a separate collection to the one that is owned by the Assembly.

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