Radical plan could move UK's national art collections into former IKEA store in Coventry

The five-storey building will house nearly 17,000 works from the Arts Council and British Council collections, under proposed scheme

This former IKEA store in Coventry could soon house much of the UK's national art collection

This former IKEA store in Coventry could soon house much of the UK's national art collection

Two of the UK’s largest and most important national collections could be housed in a former IKEA store in the West Midlands under radical plans drawn up by Coventry City Council.

The Arts Council Collection and the British Council collection would relocate to the new facility as part of the initiative, creating a “consolidated national base that would be at the heart of Coventry city centre,” says city councillor David Welsh.

“Under the plans, Coventry City Council will buy the former five-storey IKEA store in the city centre and transform it to create a multi-purpose collections and cultural facility,” says a project statement. “The new National Collections Centre will contribute to a lasting physical, economic and cultural legacy from Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture, which begins on 15 May 2021 and will run for 12 months.” The council is due to vote on the proposal on 23 February.

Coventry City Council is due to vote on the proposal on 23 February Courtesy of Coventry City Council

If the scheme is approved, the 8,000-strong Arts Council Collection would relocate from two current collection stores: Kennington Park in South London and Longside on the Yorkshire Sculpture Park estate. The collection, which includes works by artists such as Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry, was founded in 1946 and has been managed since 1986 by the Southbank Centre in London. The British Council collection—which comprises more than 8,500 British art works of the 20th and 21st centuries —is based in west London. Both collections are supported by public funds.

A spokeswoman for the Arts Council Collection says that if the plans are given the go ahead, the Southbank Centre will continue to manage the Arts Council Collection on behalf of Arts Council England. Asked if staff will need to relocate from the existing sites, she adds: "We are still in the early stages of discussion of developing any potential plans. The Arts Council will work with the Arts Council Collection on what implications there could be for staffing as part of any future planning."

The Arts Council Collection has reached capacity across its two current collections stores, says the project statement, adding: “The proposed new Collections Centre will maximise efficiency in collection care and will allow the Arts Council Collection to develop and implement new ways of exploring public engagement with the collection.”

The Art Newspaper understands that the British Council has meanwhile been seeking a long-term solution to its collection management requirements and that the Coventry IKEA building on Croft Road is considered the British Council’s preferred option. “Options for this are still being explored however and have not yet been formally confirmed,” says a source close to the British Council.

The project brings together several other partners including Culture Coventry Trust and Coventry University. Some of the city's collections not currently on display at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, and the Coventry Transport Museum could also be transferred to the proposed centre, which would "improve public access" to Coventry’s collections according to the council. Costs for developing the collections centre, yet to be confirmed, would be recouped through capital grants and the rents received from the partners involved in the project, the council says.