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Numbers will, however, be limited giving rise to the suggestion that successful applicants will receive an unfair advantage.

Following its introduction in the regions, the Arts Council is currently taking applications from London galleries for its ‘Own Art’ scheme. Those selected will be able to offer the loans from January 2006.

To date, membership of the scheme has been restricted to galleries outside of London with the aim of supporting and developing the regional market for Contemporary artists. The scheme enables buyers to borrow up to £2000 interest-free which is then repaid in monthly instalments. The money can go towards a piece of art that costs more than that figure.

However, due to the concentration of galleries in the capital and with the Arts Council’s funding restrictions, the Own Art network in London will be limited to a maximum of 100 venues and those galleries selected are expected to be less than five years old.

Chief spokesman for the Arts Council David McNeill told ATG: “So far there’s been a quick response in London and we’ve been signing up people everyday. A lot of galleries have applied, especially small ones. But others are also keeping an eye out.”

Some in the trade though are worried that this could create unequal market conditions between different dealers. In theory, two traders could have stands next to each other at a fair, one offering interest-free loans, and the other not.

Jeff Hicks whose gallery has been operating in Wimbledon for 17 years expects a lot of protest in the trade. He told ATG that the Arts Council’s policy was “biased” and pointed out that galleries offering this scheme outside London are not necessarily expected to be under five years old.

“The idea is to give recently-formed galleries a chance of broadening their client base, but this could just assist one dealer in taking clients from another,” he said.

Although the criteria for the scheme will inevitably be restrictive, David McNeill said that the Arts Council’s selection policy would best support up-and-coming artists as well as enable a wider collecting base to develop for the Contemporary art market.

“Yes, we want to help galleries get established,” he said. “But these galleries will have to show a strong policy towards selling works by living artists.

“The important criteria is not where galleries are based, but what policies and practices they adopt.”

These practices include issues such as standards of display, exhibition procedures, relationships with artists, the knowledge of the staff, and the quality and innovation of the work they offer.

“Our intention is also to demystify the whole process of buying art,” said Mr McNeill.
For further information about the Own Art scheme and the application process, contact Gail Acaster at Arts Council England, Central Square, Forth Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 3PJ or visit http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/ownart/