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2020: Building UK culture at home as art treasures fly abroad

Visual of exterior of proposed 'art depot' at Rotterdam's Museum Boijimans van Beuningen (MVRDV / Design Boom)

This year sees The National Gallery London in partnership with The Yomiuri Shimbun - one of the largest media organisations in Japan - presenting an unprecedented loan of outstanding works in an exhibition to coincide with the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. 'Masterpieces from the National Gallery London' will be hosted at the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo and its equivalent in Osaka.

Vincent van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' will be a major highlight and will be seen in Japan for the first time. The National Gallery London hopes to extend its international reputation through the project and build new audiences. Jeremy Wright, UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport stated that this is an opportunity to 'promote the very best of Britain to the globe'.

What of the loss of some of the most viewed and loved paintings, which will be gone from the UK for a year? The Art Newspaper reports that a spokesman from the National Gallery London has stated that fees from the touring show - which has now been extended to Australia - will be partly used for other touring exhibitions throughout the UK, sharing art with 'home' audiences that would otherwise not get the chance to see them.

Meanwhile in the UK, Martin Green, who ran Hull UK City of Culture in 2017, is preparing his team to produce the £120 million four nations Post - Brexit Cultural Festival. The 2022 Festival of the UK will be centred in Birmingham and will give a boost to the development of the UK's creative industries. Although no firm plans have yet been announced on the detail, it is viewed as important for economic prosperity.

At Future Cities Forum in Liverpool last February the Head of Culture Liverpool Claire McColgan was asked 'Can you overdose on festivals?'

'No', she said 'because tourists are changing. But the key challenge for cities bidding for cultural prizes, is how do you continue to stand out with your story when every other city is fighting for attention? Culture is only a silver bullet if you have the infrastructure, the political will, the talent and the organisation. Otherwise you only have fizz and that does not last.'

Creating a richer museum experience, to encourage home visitors and tourists from abroad, has taken on the trend of trying to make museum collections more available to the public, opening up a vast array of treasures that otherwise would lie in storage. Rotterdam in the Netherlands is leading the way in the current trend of opening up' the back stage of museum workings' with a new 'depot' of art - a storage facility attached to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The new vast storage facility of paintings will open to the public as an empty shell to view this year and complete with the stored art in 2021.

The Rotterdam 'depot' will hold 151,000 pieces, of which there will be 88,000 drawings and prints, including works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Monet as well as contemporary pieces by Andy Warhol. An innovative step by the museum will allow space for private collectors to store their art under museum conditions, which with permission, will also be open on occasions to the public.

Rotterdam has been ahead of the curve with this current move towards public transparency. The Centre Pompidou in Paris, is opening a 22,000 square meter 'art factory' in 2025 in the southern suburbs at Massy while the V&A Museum is progressing the creation of its new collections and research centre at Here East, Stratford, also designed to be open to the public. Deputy Director of the V&A, Tim Reeve, spoke at our April forum about connecting with new audiences:

'We are working to create relationships across all the Olympic boroughs, and encouraging local people to share in shaping the vision for the new museum - and this includes running a micro-museum on the Lansbury Estate. If we do not allow the one million people who live in these four boroughs in East London to shape the museum we are missing the point entirely.'

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