I recently had the opportunity to attend the launch of a project at the Government Art Collection (GAC) in my capacity as Minister for Arts.
The Government Art Collection belongs to the nation and dates back to the year 1898; it features over 14,000 works dating from the 16th century to the present day, the majority of which were created by British artists.
Before 1898, works of art were acquired on an ad-hoc basis by departments in Government, until the Treasury approved a proposal to purchase portraits for the rooms of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. This would later be expanded to include other government buildings, and as the collection grew, so too did Britain’s ability to showcase our excellent artwork to the world. Many pieces are now displayed at British embassies, High Commissions and official Residences abroad, and are viewed by thousands of people every year. The British Embassy in Paris for example alone has 17,000 visitors a year.
Britain tops the Global Ranking of ‘Soft Power’, that is to say that we are number one in the world in terms of having the ability to influence others to obtain our preferred outcomes by the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuasion and positive attraction.
Our Soft Power strength is helped in no small part due to our country’s cultural reach, of which art is an integral component. I was impressed by some of the works of art that have been accumulated over the years by the GAC. Whilst art is of course subject to personal taste, the collection demonstrates the sheer amount of talent that we have in this country.
To mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 (which saw the first women given the right to vote), the GAC is significantly increasing the amount of works in its collection by female artists, something which I am keen to see in celebration of the anniversary of women’s suffrage.