The Arts Council Collection began when the Arts Council of Great Britain was founded in 1946. It took over a small group of paintings from the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) and its aim was to promote and encourage the appreciation of contemporary art through touring exhibitions. The Collection has continued to grow, acquiring innovative works each year and circulating these as widely as possible. There are now approaching 8,000 works in the Collection, including paintings, sculptures, original works on paper, prints, photographs, film and video and installation works.
The Collection includes important, often early, work by all of the most influential British artists from the mid-twentieth century to the present day, including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, ben Nicholson, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Victor Pasmore, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, Patrick Caulfield, Gilbert & George, Richard Hamilton, Richard Deacon, Antony Gormley, Mark Wallinger, Peter Doig, Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Chris Ofili, Steve McQueen, Mona Hatoum, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Grayson Perry, Glenn Brown, Jeremy Deller, Keith Coventry and Wolfgang Tillmans.
Since 1986 the Arts Council Collection has been managed by the Southbank Centre, on behalf of Arts Council England. It is now based at the Southbank Centre, London and at Longside, Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The base at Longside enables the Arts Council Collection team to extend its sculpture conservation and research programmes and to increase public access to the sculpture collection through increased lending and exhibition initiatives. A diverse and stimulating range of exhibitions from the Collection, including displays of some of the most recent acquisitions, can be seen in the adjacent Longside Gallery.