FINANCE Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir this week announced his plans to purchase new art for the Civil Service Art collection.

The South Belfast Stormont Assembly candidate said: “I am a firm advocate of supporting the arts and since becoming Finance Minister I have actively moved to open up the Civil Service Art Collection. Last month I was proud to publish the final report of the Art Advisory Panel in Strabane’s Alley Theatre. I set up the Panel to review how we can put to good use government art and open it up to the public across the wider community and ensure our citizens can enjoy our magnificent collection.

“A key recommendation was to develop the collection, which has not had any pieces added since 2004. Today, I’m delighted to commit a three-year investment totalling £160,000 in the collection. This will be an investment of £40,000 a year and the Arts Council will on behalf of my Department select new pieces. I am also committing an additional £40,000 to help address the gaps left by no purchases being made since 2004.”

The Minister added: “I also confirm my Department’s continuing commitment to the four joint annual exhibitions which are held across the island to allow citizens to experience some of the 1,400 art pieces in the North’s collection along with that of the Office of Public Works in the South to ensure that both collections are seen by the widest possible audience. I also plan to hold a major exhibition in the North in the near future to showcase the Civil Service Art Collection as recommended by the Panel.

“I am confident this new investment will begin a new journey of discovery for the public with our art collection.”

Welcoming the announcement, Roísín McDonough, Chief Executive, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “This is terrific news. Minister Ó Muilleoir’s decision to invest in Northern Ireland’s emerging visual artists and to ensure that this important Civil Service Art Collection is seen by more people is the right one.

“The significant investment by the Department of Finance will allow this marvellous collection to be curated and displayed appropriately. It will also enable much-needed support for the work of our new, emerging artists to be represented and the collection to grow once again after more than a decade. This is great news for the arts and the Arts Council looks forward to supporting the new funding programme.”

Speaking on Friday past after chairing his last meeting of the Central Procurement Directorate Board as Finance Minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir welcomed agreement to introduce the per cent for art policy into all new government buildings.

He said: “Best practice in Europe and the US has been to embed the work of artists in infrastructure developments. In that way, we invest in art and in artists, creating successful and vibrant communities which celebrate culture.

“Exciting public art is a cornerstone of the great cities of Europe and helps to enhance and uplift great buildings.

“Through our capital spend, we will now foster a blossoming of great art, provides work for artists, and creates an arts dividend which builds healthy communities and drives economic growth.”