Vivien Lovell recalls a picture loan scheme she introduced in Tower Hamlets in the late 70s, and Ros Napier says her library in Solihull also lent reproductions of famous art.

Professor Terry Gifford’s letter (Welcome return of School Prints loans, 18 January) prompted me to remember how, as visual arts officer for the London borough of Tower Hamlets in the late 70s and early 80s, I introduced a picture loan scheme operated through the library service. Original paintings, drawings and prints by local artists (who at that time included emerging names such as Anish Kapoor and Shirazeh Houshiary) were bought by the borough. For a token sum, residents could borrow work to hang at home for three months. It was immensely successful, stimulating public interest in contemporary art. Artworks were lovingly cared for. They were also for sale, in which event we applied artists’ resale royalties, then a relatively new principle in the UK. The scheme continued under my successor, Sally Williams, but subsequently the collection was probably dispersed within the council offices. It would be interesting to know what happened to it. Very few other boroughs operated such schemes at the time; Hammersmith and Fulham was one.

My inspiration for the Tower Hamlets scheme came from the Leicestershire schools art collection, introduced in the 50s and funded through a Percent for Artscheme whereby the budget for every new school included a percentage for art acquisitions and indeed commissions. Some works, including a Balthus, purportedly gained in value such that they became impossible to insure. A further inspiration was the picture loan scheme introduced by Alastair Grieve at my university, UEA, in the late 1960s; prints by Albers, Pasmore and others could adorn student walls for three months.

Given the extraordinary talent and output of artists today, there is surely the opportunity to introduce further art loan schemes through public galleries. The Hepworth is a new beacon of hope in this respect.
Vivien Lovell
Public art curator, Modus Operandi, London 

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