Budget cuts and export stops

The Art Fund's Director, Stephen Deuchar, responds to a Guardian report about UK-owned works of art that have been sold to private collections overseas.

Last week the Guardian reported the 'loss' abroad last year of 33,000 works of art and other items of cultural value. This is less serious than it sounds. Most were everyday sales from private collections here to private collections elsewhere. Welcome to the art market. The small number that were of high potential importance to UK museums were properly identified by the Export Review system.

Of these, only six of the original 19 were successfully acquired for public ownership. But it is the sharp decline in public funding for the arts, rather than the export controls themselves, that lies squarely behind this failure. The works that Ed Vaizey challenged curators to fundraise for in 2013 were, at £115M, worth 50% more than those he export-stopped in 2012; meanwhile his government oversaw funding cuts averaging over 20% across the sector. To such a background it was remarkable that as many as six were saved.

Agencies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund continue to do all they can to guard the UK's arts and heritage against the ravages of the Government's austerity programme. In the case of the National Portrait Gallery's current campaign for Van Dyck’s self-portrait, a number of trusts and foundations as well as significant sums from public donations are also of crucial help. The combination of high art prices in a buoyant international market, currently fast-fuelled by hungry private investors, and a sorry parallel decline in national and local funding for UK museums, is the only enemy.

A version of this blog appeared in the Guardian's Letters page on Tuesday 4 January.

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