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Politics & Current Affairs

In The UK, Sales Of Public Art Create Controversy

Cities and towns across Britain are raising much-needed cash by offering landmark public sculptures, paintings, and other art to the highest bidder. Opponents say the value of art to a community goes far beyond money.

What’s the Latest Development?

Faced with massive spending cuts as part of a nationwide austerity campaign, cities and towns across the UK are finding themselves offering up works of public art for sale. Some of them, such as a Henry Moore bronze sculpture currently owned by Tower Hamlets, an impoverished East London borough, are expected to bring in millions at auction. The Moore sculpture, nicknamed “Old Flo,” was sold by the artist to the borough in 1962 with instructions for it to remain in a public place for all to enjoy. However, since 1997 it’s resided in West Yorkshire, 200 miles north, partially to protect it from vandalism.

What’s the Big Idea?

Protestors of the decision to sell the sculpture include the filmmaker Danny Boyle, who said in a statement last month, “The Moore sculpture defies all prejudice in people’s minds about one of London’s poorest boroughs. That alone makes it priceless to every resident.” Tower Hamlets council members say most of the money raised by the sale will be used to fund public housing. However, Rushanara Ali, a member of Parliament who represents a ward in the borough and opposes the decision, says that the underlying issue is poor management of existing funds. She asks: “Where do you draw the line in terms of selling off public art?”

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