Today, (16 February 2017) the Open Inheritance Art project, funded by the Open Data Institute (ODI) Showcase, invites the public to discover and visit private collections of Britain’s most important cultural heritage artworks in a bid to increase access to art.

From paintings by Rembrandt to Henry Moore sculptures, these artworks reside anywhere from stately homes to suburban semis and “together represent one of the largest 'secret' collections in the country”, says historian and broadcaster, Dr Hannah Grieg.

The artworks are made available under Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) Conditional Exemption Incentive scheme. It aims to keep national assets of outstanding beauty, historical or scientific interest – such as paintings, rare books, furniture and sculptures – in the UK. In return for tax incentives, owners agree to make the assets available to the public.

The Open Inheritance Art online platform empowers the public to easily discover these national heritage artworks, find their location and arrange viewings with the owners using existing open data – that anyone can access, use and share – about the artworks on its website.

Improving data about these artworks will increase public engagement

Open Inheritance Art is designed to improve and enrich HMRC’s data, by allowing people to flag missing or outdated information that can be directly fed back to HMRC. In addition, with the owner’s permission, visitors can photograph and upload digital copies of the works onto the website. In many cases, these photos are the first digital representations of the works, displayed on the website and uploaded to WikiMedia, a freely usable media source under open licences.

Jo Pugh, founder of Open Inheritance Art, said:

These objects are the work of the world’s greatest artists and craftspeople and we want to bring them closer to the public. We have worked hard to mine the data so we can attempt to highlight where works are made permanently publicly available, in National Trust properties or other stately homes. We're also calling upon art lovers to contact private owners through our website to arrange access and encourage a widescale digitisation of these important cultural assets.

Historian and broadcaster Dr Hannah Greig, convenor of the Public History course at York said:

Open Inheritance Art promises to be a really exciting resource. There is a huge array of historically significant art currently held in private collections, about which little is known or which were only known through word of mouth hints and personal contacts with the owners. By making information about these private holdings publicly available, Open Inheritance Art promises to transform access to that material. I can't wait to see what treasures will be unlocked and look forward to helping generate public awareness about the material.

Jeni Tennison, CEO at the ODI said:

The ODI Showcase funds exciting projects that can bring about real impact through innovative use of open data. The more the public uses and contributes to Open Inheritance Art, the more accurate and valuable the data becomes, and the more useful in helping the British public to engage with these artworks. HMRC has acknowledged these assets as culturally significant. It’s great to see open data being used to make them as accessible to the public as they deserve to be.

About the ODI Showcase

The ODI Showcase supports projects that demonstrate how open data can be used to bring longstanding benefits to individuals, organisations and society. The ODI provides grant funding, mentoring and promotional support to maximise these impacts.

Read the full Open Inheritance Art story