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Art UK Sculpture is a national project using digital and physical engagement to transform the way people access and learn about sculpture. The focus of the three-and-a-half-year project (2017–2021) is on sculpture dating from the last 1,000 years, held in the buildings and stores of public collections, and situated in outdoor locations across the UK. The national sculpture collection is truly global, offering insights into diverse cultures including twelfth-century Nigeria, Victorian Britain and 1960s New York.

Major learning, engagement and training programmes are creating a lasting legacy of involvement in our sculpture heritage. Nearly 23,000 people have participated in-person in these programmes.

This ambitious project is transforming the way people access and learn about their sculptural heritage and is allowing audiences to share knowledge, exchange opinions and visit sculptures, both in-person and online.

Digitisation of sculpture

The UK is the first country in the world to create a free-to-access online photographic showcase of its publicly owned sculpture. The first records began appearing on Art UK in early 2019. Prior to the project, many of these works were without records, images or online access. Many public monuments are not fully recorded and so are at risk.

John Flaxman's 'Fury of Athamas' being photographed

John Flaxman's 'Fury of Athamas' being photographed

An intrepid team of Coordinators and Photographers is working with over 800 organisations, from Shetland to Jersey, to record and photograph the sculptures in their care, including the V&A, National Trust properties, regional museums, hospitals and universities. 

The digitisation of public sculpture involves over 500 volunteers based in all parts of the UK. Collectively they have contributed over 4,500 days of their time on research, photography and data management.

Volunteers are motivated to develop skills, but also to engage with the art and history of their local areas. Many Volunteer Photographers are members of the Royal Photographic Society, one of the project’s partners, which helped with the recruitment of the volunteer team.

Learning, engagement and training programmes

Our Masterpieces in Schools programme sees sculptures taken into schools for a day of engaging, exciting hands-on activities. Members of the Royal Society of Sculptors are leading workshops at schools across the UK. Over 10,000 people have benefitted from this programme.

We have also shared our knowledge from the Masterpieces in Schools programme with seven museum professionals from Greece, who came to the UK to see how our learning team develop and run these activities.

Our varied public engagement programme, Sculpture Around You, has included a street party in Wakefield run in association with Yorkshire Sculpture International, workshops for blind and partially sighted people led by project partners VocalEyes, a family event in Southampton and sculpture recording in Dundee. Over 11,500 people have taken part in these events.

Our project partners CultureStreet are making a series of short films about sculpture, including sculpture review films made with schools and sculptural practice films featuring contemporary sculptors. A further set of films are being made by schools, under guidance from CultureStreet, as part of the 4MinuteFilm Challenge. Just under 700 young people have taken part in the making of these films.

The project is providing opportunities for staff and volunteers from organisations taking part in the project to develop their skills in sculpture digitisation and caring for the sculptures in their collection. Nearly 400 people have benefitted from these training programmes. We have also provided shadowing days and placements for photography students, who have been able to observe first-hand how our professional photographers produce high-quality images of sculpture in a variety of situations.