LONDON—Own Art, a program that encourages beginning collectors to purchase artworks by providing _interest-free loans of up to £2,000 ($3,000), has proved a huge success in the four years since it was introduced. Sponsored by Arts Council England, a government-run organization that supports arts activities, the program has made loans to 12,500 people, generating sales of arts and crafts of £10.5 million ($15.8 million).
Two hundred and fifty galleries in England and 43 in Scotland (where the program is run by the Scottish Arts Council) subscribe to the plan, which subsidizes the interest on loans from Hitachi Capital Consumer Finance. Among them are many publicly funded galleries such as the Whitechapel Gallery and the South London Gallery, which host major contemporary-art shows and sell cheaper prints and multiples in their shops.
In Scotland, some of the more adventurous young galleries participate, such as Sorcha Dallas, Glasgow, and Ingleby, Edinburgh, which has also taken part in Art Basel for the last two years.
Galleries seeking to participate in the Own Art program must submit an application to the Arts Council. According to the Council’s Web site, the program is open to companies, charities and other nonprofits based in England that “specialize in the sale and presentation of work by contemporary artists,” including “Internet-based galleries that are registered in England.”
Buyers apply for an Own Art loan at the gallery where they are purchasing a work, and must be over 18, be permanent residents of the U.K., and have a bank account that can make direct-debit payments.
A breakdown of purchases showed that 26.5 percent of sales were made to first-time buyers, while 26 percent of loans were taken out by customers with incomes equal to or below the national average of £22,500 ($33,750). When the lending program was introduced, a poll conducted in England for ACE revealed that only 1 percent of those surveyed had bought original art, while 27 percent thought they would consider buying an original work.
Mary Alice Stack, development manager for ACE, said the loan program especially benefits up-and-coming artists. “We wanted all those millions of viewers at Tate Modern to think about bringing art into their homes. It is also a very effective way to support the art infrastructure,” she said.
Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Gallery, which reopened this month, said, “The Own Art initiative is a simple and effective way of enabling people to start their own contemporary-art collection.”
In a study conducted by ACE, most buyers said they were not concerned with art as a financial investment, though some had been pleasantly surprised. Businessman Ian Lamming said he bought a print by the graffiti artist Banksy two years ago for £190. “Now it’s worth around £7,500,” he said.