What goes on at…? Art UK

We speak to Katey Goodwin, Deputy Director, and Alice Payne, Head of Content at Art UK

What goes on at…? Art UK

What does Art UK do?

We are putting the nation's art online, in partnership with over 3,000 public art collections. There are already over 200,000 artworks on Art UK and the number's growing. We commission and write about artists, artworks, exhibitions and the stories behind paintings, from the world famous to the obscure.

We have just launched our three-year sculpture project, where we will digitise sculpture of the last 1,000 years held in public collections and seen outside in our streets and parks across the UK. We'll be organising lots of sculpture-related activities for schools, making films and running a large volunteering programme.

Where did the idea of digitising artwork come from?

The idea developed from there not being a comprehensive list of all the artworks in public ownership in the UK. Art UK thinks that it is very important for people to know about the artworks held by public collections. Before we started digitising these artworks and making them available online, many of these art collections had not been photographed before and many organisations did not have a full list of the works they owned. Many artworks are in store or in offices, so not always accessible to members of the public.

What is the process of getting artwork online?

Art UK has a team of Coordinators and Photographers based across the UK who work with local public organisations to gather information and take images of the artworks in their collections. The artwork data has to be presented in a consistent way, so that people using Art UK can compare the same information about a painting in Penzance with a painting in Aberdeen. After lots of checks, including tracing rights holders for artworks that are still in copyright, we put the images and data on Art UK.


Why do you view the work you do as important?

Firstly, some smaller and medium-size organisations do not have the resources to put their works online, so Art UK will be the only place they can provide access to their collection. Secondly, digitisation is important so that objects can be safely searched for without having to move physical objects around that might be fragile. And finally – having every painting in the UK's public collection on one site is important so that people can make connections that might otherwise be impossible – such as where all the Rembrandts in the UK are.

What has been the most challenging part of the job?

Art UK runs a number of projects that all have their challenging parts, but without facing the challenging parts we wouldn't be where we are today.

Tracing all the artists or artist estates to check rights for the website is very challenging, along with finding all the objects that need cataloguing.

Equally, what has been most rewarding?

The most rewarding part of working at Art UK is hearing how useful people find the website. We love it when collections have used Art UK as inspiration for an exhibition. The Art Detective website can also be very rewarding as the experts on there often find missing pieces of information that can even lead to long lost sitters being identified.

What do you offer to young people?

We hope that the whole of the Art UK website is accessible for young people and we've written the welcome page with young people specifically in mind. https://artuk.org/about/welcome

We have an Instagram page where we've been testing out the equivalent of Humans of New York – so we've been doing #HumansofArtUK, where we tell the stories of some of the sitters in paintings from an imagined first person perspective. https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/humansofartuk/

We also have a YouTube page that hosts our #ArtSpeaks videos where young poets have used artworks on Art UK for inspiration to create poems on certain themes such as mental health. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeZPrwByVwluSMQKgNLvnkw

What activities are most popular for young people and why?

Our YouTube channel is most popular for young people and we plan on creating lots more videos! The next video you will see will be the winner of our Art Speaks competition. More information can be found here: https://artuk.org/participate/art-speaks-the-competition

Are you an Arts Award Supporter? If so, what do you offer to young people doing Arts Award?

Yes we are! Art UK as a whole is our offer – you can use the website to search for artists, artworks and collections across the country.

Is there anything you particularly want to promote to young people at the moment?

Our Art Speaks competition! Are you aged 13–24 and have a love for poetry and art? Enter our competition to win £500 and be commissioned to write and star in the fifth Art Speaks film. Full guidelines can be found here: https://artuk.org/participate/art-speaks-the-competition

Where can people find more information about Art UK?


Image credit: Art UK


Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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