Cultural Infrastructure: Art in Transit

Building on our investigations of London’s cultural infrastructure, this year we are interested in looking at the city's art network, to understand how it operates –architecturally, politically, economically and logistically.
Our critical inquiry comes at a time when our city’s cultural well-being has never been so important and when architecture has a critical role to play in shaping people's relationship to the arts and culture ecosystem. 

In a recent speech, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, made Cultural Infrastructure one of his top priorities, declaring that “it is now more urgent than ever to unlock [culture’s] potential to bring people together and to ensure our ongoing status as a globally attractive destination.” 

But how exactly can culture's social, physical and intellectual infrastructure achieve all this? And, if we narrow down our field of investigation to the art world, how can we make sure that art networks, facilities and institutions, other than serving high-net-worth individuals, actually enrich the lives of ordinary people? 

Art is by no means static. Much as a currency flows between countries, art calls for a constant movement of people, artefacts and financial resources – the more a work is exhibited and passed from hand to hand, the more it increases in value; until sometimes, becoming a mere asset, even disappears from public view. Many exquisite artworks enter a web of private networks to be hidden away, severed from the cultures which produced them. 

Can architects and designers have any agency in this scenario? Can we act on the logistical and legislative frameworks which govern and structure these flows to make sure that everyone can benefit from them?  

To determine the limits and potentials of our discipline we will carry out an in-depth study of the inherent connection between art and mobility, looking at the infrastructure that supports the flow of artworks, people and data within the art network. We will draw a taxonomy of art venues and art repositories across London – will record the diversity of art spaces from private galleries and artists’ studios to virtual collections and auction houses. We will study the typologies of art storage depots and “freeports” – interestingly these are fancy storage facilities where non-resident collectors can store their artworks without having to pay taxes, thus allowing art to be easily (and at times even just virtually) moved across countries. Moreover we will gain an in-depth understanding of the way in which the Conditional Exemption Tax Incentive scheme (CETI) operates. 

CETI is a tax exemption scheme, which seeks to keep valuable artifacts within the UK borders, by offering tax relief when a new owner inherits them, under the proviso that the artefacts in question are not sold and that are made available for the general public, upon request to view. the list is available online and managed by the V&A but the scheme remains unknown to most and its treasures stay hidden. There are for instance over 10 original Picassos currently kept within private walls across London, which are hardly ever shown to the public.
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