The Art UK sculpture project


Art UK is the online home of every public art collection in the UK. Formerly known as the Public Catalogue Foundation, we showcase the nation’s art for enjoyment, learning and research. In 2017, generous funding allowed us to realise the next major stage of our work – digitising the nation’s collection of sculpture. Working with over 3000 collections and an estimated 16,500 works of public sculpture, nearly 167,000 artworks will be added to the Art UK site by May 2020. This unique and free to access digital showcase is working to transform access to the UK’s publicly owed art collection, much of which is not on regular display.

Students at Pinders Primary participate in a workshop exploring colour and shape, inspired by their ‘Masterpieces in Schools’ loan. Image courtesy of Art UK and Arts Council Collection.

Transforming access to the UK’s sculptural heritage

In May 2017, Art UK began an ambitious three-year process to transform access to our sculptural heritage in the UK. By proposing to digitise all sculpture in public ownership, we aim to support the custodians of these works develop and improve both new and existing records, whilst enabling the public to participate in this process, to learn about and engage with sculpture in their communities. By May 2020 we want to have created a lasting legacy of involvement in the UK’s sculptural heritage, both in-person and online.

One way in which Art UK aims to achieve this is through the delivery of a national learning and engagement programme, a first for the organisation. The funding received for the Sculpture project has allowed us to employ to two full time learning staff for the duration of the project, who will work with a wide range of audiences between now and May 2020.

Project partners Culture Street filming with a local school at the Usher Gallery, Lincoln. Image courtesy of Culture Street.

Our work will include the management and delivery of two headline programmes. The first a repeat of Art UK’s unique initiative, Masterpieces in Schools. Over a three-week period in 2013, we saw high-profile works of art loaned to twenty-five schools across the country to support a day of cross-curricular learning. The loans included significant works by artists such as Gainsborough, L. S. Lowry, Monet and Turner. The project was extremely successful, generating international press interest and incredibly positive feedback from collections and schools alike.

This time around we aim to take 125 sculptures into primary and secondary schools across the UK, partnering them with local collections and practising artists from the Royal Society of Sculptors. There is no cost for the school or participating collection because of the funding provided by the Sculpture project, and when registration for the scheme was launched in January 2018, we were blown away by the response from schools with hundreds registering within the first few days for the opportunity to host an artwork.

Since then we have been working with collections across the country to identify works suitable for loan, and to pair these with schools in their locale. A key landmark in our project took place last month when Philip King’s 1965 work Point X visited Pinders Primary School in Wakefield. The very first Masterpieces in Schools event to showcase sculpture.

Philip King, ‘Point X’, (1965), installed in the assembly hall of Pinders Primary School, Wakefield. Image courtesy of Art UK and Arts Council Collection.

Supported by staff from the Arts Council Collection, whose sculpture collection is based a short distance away in the grounds of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Year 3 class from Pinders Primary were allowed to take complete ownership of their event from start to finish. Working closely with the Arts Council Collection Learning and Outreach Manager, Natalie Walton and Senior Curator Natalie Rudd, Year 3 were able to visit the gallery in advance of the event, learning about curatorial processes, meeting staff and ultimately selecting the artwork they would receive on loan from a predetermined shortlist.

On the day of the loan, Year 3 were able to observe the final stages of the installation of Point X in their assembly hall, before revealing the artwork to the rest of the school, something which had been kept top secret until the day of the event. All 240 pupils at this one form entry school was able to engage with the loan during its visit, working with the Arts Council Collection and Art UK staff to learn more about their artwork and enjoying practical and physical workshops exploring colour, shape and structure inspired by the sculpture.

The pupils at Pinders Primary clearly enjoyed their day, with one stating ‘I felt special and proud to help choose the artwork for the other kids. It felt like we got to be teachers’, and another confirming that the event ‘…has made me want to do more art.’

Large scale drawing workshops during ‘Masterpieces in Schools’ event at Weetwood Primary School, Leeds. Image courtesy of Art UK and Leeds Museums and Galleries.

The scheme will continue with another 124 events, with ambitions to reach 70,000 children and young people by the time the project wraps in May 2020. Recent events include loans in Leeds and London, supported by Leeds Art Gallery and the Government Art Collection. The intended legacy of the programme is to forge the development of long lasting relationships at a local level between school and collection.

Sculpture around you

Art UK’s other headline programme is a community orientated initiative known as Sculpture Around You. A series of 75 pop-up events across the UK which aims to reveal sculptural heritage to local audiences. Flexible in format, we have seen a range of events and projects programmed so far which explore both digital and practical outcomes.

Our first large scale event took take place at the end of the June working with the Arts for Health team at Milton Keynes Hospital, where the artist Laura X Carle met with families of hospital staff and visitors to deliver large scale collaborative making activities as an opportunity for intergenerational play and experimentation, inspired by the hospital’s sculpture collection and the 70th anniversary of the NHS.
Upcoming events include an animation project with young carers exploring the stories behind the sculpture at Gilwell Park, home of the Scouts Heritage Collection in Essex and flash mob recordings of public sculpture around Dundee in partnership with Dundee University and a local arts-based community group. Project partners Vocal Eyes are also supporting us to deliver a series of creative workshops and audio descriptions to complement our online catalogue, to specifically support blind and partially sighted audiences to engage with the wider project.

Finally, alongside these two headline programmes, we will also be working to deliver a range of skills development opportunities for young people. Project partners Culture Street will be making 25 films with schools exploring sculptural highlights at their local collection and supporting the production of 25 co-produced films, working with groups of young people to explore their views and opinions on sculpture. Art UK will also be organising 25 work experience days for secondary school students linked to our digitisation project, pairing students with a participating collections and regional project staff, to reveal the processes behind the project and encourage them to consider careers in the cultural and heritage sectors.

A sculptural party to celebrate the 70th birthday of the NHS at Milton Keynes Hospital. Image courtesy of Art UK.

A third down, two thirds still to go

It’s still early days for the Sculpture project, but as we move into our second year a great deal of learning has already been accumulated in the planning and initial pilots of this ambitious project.  As with all funded projects, the recruitment and set up stage of the project is time consuming, relentless and likely to overrun. We have realised it is best to plan the timeline of your project with this in mind.  

We have discovered that it can be very challenging for two staff to manage delivery across a massive geographical area, but that with the right partnership and support at a local level an event programmed hundreds of miles away can be a massive success.

Subsequently, communication remains a challenge. With many project staff working independently and from home in regional roles, with huge geographical areas to cover, we have experimented with various methods of keeping everyone up to date with all the different arms of the project. Maintaining clear lines of communication is essential to the project’s success.

We have had an independent evaluation consultant on board from a very early stage, and her knowledge and expertise has been vital in helping us to set up work flows and gather feedback from these early projects. We continue to learn from her experience and apply this across our project, to ensure we have been meeting all monitoring and evaluation needs from the very beginning.

Finally, we have learnt that since rebranding in 2016, it is still very early days for the Art UK name. The Sculpture project is allowing us to work directly with collections and the public in a way not seen since our ‘Your Paintings’ project completed in 2013. This opportunity is invaluable, and building our public profile remains a key priority over the next couple of years.

Laura Woodfield
Learning and Engagement Manager, Art UK
@artukdotorg #ArtUKsculptureproject

Get involved

The Art UK Sculpture project continues until May 2020 and continues to seek regional partners to help deliver our national learning programme. If you would like to find more about how to get involved in the sculpture project as an individual or public collection, please contact the team at Sculptures are due to start appearing on the Art UK site from the end of 2018 and we very much look forward to updating you in 2020 when the project completes.

Project Partners

The BBC, Culture Street, Factum Foundation, the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, The Royal Photographic Society, the Royal Society of Sculptors and Vocal Eyes.


Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, Scottish Government, Esmée Fairbairn, Garfield Weston Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Pilgrim Trust, several other trusts and foundations plus a range of private and corporate donations. A full list of funders is available here.