Arts Council Collection

The Arts Council Collection was initiated by Kenneth Clark with a remit to collect art for the Festival of Britain, and then retained in order to collect work by British artists at an early stage of their career.  

It is a living collection and archive of international significance, providing the largest source of loan items of modern and contemporary British art.  Most British artists of national status working since the 1930s are represented and many works of outstanding importance are included in the Collection.  Annual acquisitions have recently been broadened to include artists living and working in Britain.

In total, the Collection represents the work of 2,162 artists and holds 7,747 artworks.  Of these, approximately 1,500 are paintings and over 5,000 are works on paper, including photographs. The Collection includes 845 sculptures and 113 audiovisual works.  

Since 1989 the Arts Council Collection has been managed by the Southbank Centre, as part of its visual arts programme which includes the Hayward Gallery.  

Pieces from the collection are available for both short-term and long-term loans for exhibitions organised by other institutions and publicly funded bodies.  

The Arts Council Collection also has an ongoing programme to create digital images of its artworks.  

View the collection online 

Arts Council Film Collection

The Arts Council Film Collection includes approximately 450 documentary and performance films funded or co-funded by the Arts Council between 1953 and 1998. It is a collection of national and international significance.

The collection provides a narrative of the arts in post-war Britain, from studies of key figures like Francis Bacon or Henry Moore through to a later emphasis on Black and minority ethnic artists and the emergence of modern and contemporary dance. The collection also includes films that document particular art movements that have continued to influence contemporary British art such as Surrealism, Dada, Futurism, the Independent Group and the ‘YBAs’ (Young British Artists). Many of the later films were co-commissioned with Channel 4 Television and with the BBC. 

In 2007 a partnership with the University of Westminster (with funds from the Arts & Humanities Research Council) enabled the digitisation of the collection – including the restoration of some films. The online collection, known as Arts on Film, is available to the higher education sector at Restored digital copies of all the films in the collection are stored at the National Film and TV Archive of the British Film Institute (BFI). 

In February 2014 the ownership of the Arts Council's Film Collection was transferred to the BFI where it will be maintained as a living collection, available to all to access and enjoy. Requests to screen films from the collection should be made to indicating that your query relates to a title from the Arts Council Film Collection.

Search the collection online 

Arts Council Poetry Collection

The Arts Council Poetry Collection was founded by the Arts Council in 1953 and forms the content of the Saison Poetry Library based at London’s Southbank Centre since 1988.  

As with the Arts Council Collection, it is a living archive, constantly adding to its 100,000 items of published books and audio titles.  Its focus is on all poetry titles published in the UK from 1912 onwards with a representation of work from other countries, including work in parallel text and translation.

Visit the Poetry Library website  

Arts Council Music Archive

As with the Poetry Collection, the Arts Council music archive is a collection of sheet music and recordings representing contemporary music commissions by the Arts Council since 1960.  The collection is an archive of over 40,000 scores and manuscripts from the past thirty years but it also encompasses music and sound from the earlier 20th century, stretching back to 1900. It contains both published and unpublished works, including many pieces that are out of print or hard to obtain and is managed by Sound and Music, the national agency for the development of contemporary music. 

The collection can be explored online through a searchable catalogue. More than 2,500 full scores and score extracts are available to view, alongside 1,000 audio samples.

Search the collection online