Enjoying the arts: the potential of co-operatives

Earlier this year I attended a meeting of the Norfolk Contemporary Arts Society (26 Jan). The meeting included a talk by Rob Lee about The Collective, a co-operative for collecting art.

The Collective, Lee explained, is a London-based group of people, drawn from a few households (linked by ties of friendship or family). Each member of the co-operative pays a monthly subscription.

The subscriptions are used to develop an acquisitions fund. When the time comes to acquire a new work of art, a sub-committee is formed. The committee researches ideas. Evidently this research is quite a serious business – it involves, for example, reading criticism, talking to artists, and visiting galleries and exhibitions.

When an acquisition is made, the group holds a special meeting at which the new work is unveiled. Works of art are rotated between members’ homes so that each member gets to host each work in due course.

According to Lee, members often find that works of art that they might not take to at the unveiling meeting tend to grow on them over time when they have them in their own homes.

The collection might – not least because of the research prior to acquisition – might represent a worthwhile financial investment. But it was evident, both from the content and the tone of Lee’s talk, that the driving force behind the collective was not financial, but rather appreciation and enjoyment of art. Indeed, when asked what the most successful acquisition had been, Lee said that it was a piece of performance art, performed over a series of evenings in each of the members’ homes.

I loved this talk. It was full of enthusiasm and a sense of delight. And it pointed towards a very rich experience. The Collective seemed to capture both of the main potential benefits of mutuality – (1) a pooling of economic resources and (2) a social togetherness. I’d like at some point to start something similar.


5 Responses to “Enjoying the arts: the potential of co-operatives”

  1. That is a lovely idea. I’ve heard of such a thing for sharing tools among homeowners, or on a grander scale as part of cohousing for tools, equipment, etc. I like the idea of cooperating for something less “useful” like art, which can be rather expensive for the individual.

  2. I am so excited to hear that people are actually doing this. As an artist, I had this idea about 6 months ago, as a way to make art more accessible to more people. Please keep me posted of further developments.

    • Thank you, Judith – I’d be interested to hear more on your thoughts on this from the point of view of an artist.

    • Hi Anthony,
      Artists are faced with the dilemma that often their work can be purchased only by people with a lot of disposable income. The higher up on the hierarchy of the art world one is, the higher the price of their artwork. But many artists create because of an inner urging not because of thoughts of financial gain. And most artists create with the desire to communicate which the market can sometimes hinder.

      So it’s very exciting to see others considering the possibility of joining together in community to purchase and share ownership of artworks. It feels kind of like going back to the days before the Renaissance when art was created for the community and generally placed in community settings.

      It’s also interesting to see how an idea bubbles up from the collective consciousness to surface in different places at the same times. I think we are in a real time of transformation where sharing is being considered for many different things. I hope more and more people will consider the sharing option for art.

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