Nonprofit to document publicly-owned sculptures in the U.K.

There have been a number of projects to digitize culture as of late. More and more museums are putting their collections online, and there are, of course, the many projects of Google Arts & Culture, including the company’s recent experiments 3-D printing historic sites. Now, all of the United Kingdom‘s publicly-owned sculptures that have been made in the past millennium—some 150,000 of them—are going online.

Art UK, which has previously worked to get oil paintings documented and accessible online, estimates that most of the country’s sculptures have not been previously photographed, at least in any systematic way, and that only around one percent of the country’s public collections can currently be found online. With nearly £4 million in funding secured, the nonprofit’s new project brings to light the many sculptures that stay tucked away in storage, as so many works are, exposing them to people across the world through a web platform.

Art UK is working on documenting thousands of works of sculpture from across the U.K. and making them publicly available online. (Courtesy Art UK)

The nonprofit’s staff, joined by photographers and volunteers, will be traveling across the U.K. to document sculptures from around the world, though they will only focus on those that were made over the past thousand years and are in the U.K.’s public collections or in significant private partner collections, such as those at Oxford and Cambridge. The documentation acts as a critical intervention in preserving and protecting cultural heritage, especially considering that the majority of these works are located outside and are subject to the elements and vandalism.

To help organize all these works and all this information, Art UK invites users to join its Tagger platform, which was created along with Citizens Science Alliance, a group based in the astrophysics department at the University of Oxford, and with staff from the art history department at the University of Glasgow, to allow volunteers to help organize, describe, and make searchable hundreds of thousands of artworks.

Henry Moore, Upright Motive No. 2, c. 1955–1963 (Tracy Jenkins/Courtesy Art UK)

Part of Art UK’s mission is to show as much of the national art collection as possible, an objective that doesn’t end with the online index. Alongside the digitizing project, Art UK is embarking on  various engagement projects, including “60 sculpture-related films” being created “with and by young people.” The nonprofit will also be taking 125 sculptures into schools. You can now view the first 1,000 cataloged sculptures, including everything from outdoor modernist works by Henry Moore, a dollhouse by Yinka Shonibare, 19th-century buddhas, 15th-century bishops, and a wide array of public architectural fixtures.