With the art market rocketing and funding collapsing, how can galleries such as Walsall keep buying new works? The director of the Contemporary Art Society unveils its bold new acquisition plan
The collections that regional museums hold are often extraordinary. The pre-Raphaelite collection at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is arguably the best in the world. But the vast majority have no funds for buying art. While many have friends groups and some are lucky enough to have the occasional major donor, our museums struggle to acquire the contemporary art that can draw in new and younger audiences, such as Tate Modern's five million visitors a year.
Southampton Art Gallery has been outstanding for decades in the way that it has used generous bequests to keep up with contemporary art, such as work by Bridget Riley, Eva Rothschild and Nigel Cooke. If core funding to a gallery is cut beyond a certain point, the institution becomes almost unable to accept philanthropic support, because the key contact for donors is often the dynamic and empowered curator. In one extreme case, curators are even afraid to acquire new work in case it draws the attention of cash-strapped councillors to their valuable collection. Northampton Museum's controversial sale of the Egyptian sculpture of Sekhemka this year is a precedent that looms large.