THEIR protests were loud and emphatic but in the end fell on deaf ears as Southampton councillors voted to press ahead with controversial plans to sell off pieces of the city’s prized art collection.
Waving banners and placards, about 80 campaigners noisily demanded that civic chiefs rethink proposals to raise funds for a new heritage museum by selling masterpieces.
Civic bosses were also handed a 2,500-name petition calling on them to halt the plans.
Among the protesters was art lover Keith Hatter, 62, from Winchester, who suffers from progressive blindness and regularly enjoys tours of the City Art Gallery for the visually impaired. The touch tours give him an opportunity to feel works, such as Rodin’s Eve and Crouching Woman sculptures – which both could be sold – so that he too can enjoy masterpieces.
He said: “The sculptures are wonderful pieces and they give me an opportunity to experience body language.
Without them it is an experience I will never have again.”
Demonstration organiser Les Buckingham, curator of Solent University’s Millais Gallery, said: “The city council is selling something that does not actually belong to them, they have got no right to sell it.”
Protester Sue Anderson, from Southampton, said: “I don’t want to see public works of art sold for a tourist attraction.
We don’t feel the council has a right to break the restrictions that protect these works of art.”
Despite being met by the wall of protest, councillors decided to vote in favour of pushing ahead with selling off the works and using the money to pay for a heritage centre.
They hope to find a third of the £15m cost by disposing of works by Alfred Munnings and Auguste Rodin.
Cabinet member for leisure Cllr John Hannides said that there is “no alternative”
to selling art to pay for the Sea City museum, which would also include extra art exhibition space forming part of the city’s planned cultural quarter.
The debate saw objections raised by opposition councillors.
Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Jill Baston said: “Two-and-a-half thousand signatures to a petition is quite a good response. This is not just a vocal minority – they are the best informed and the ones who really care.”
Labour councillor Matt Stevens said: “We do support the idea of the cultural quarter and the exhibition space, but what we’re concerned about is that this is the only way to finance it.”
Cllr Hannides said that despite the petition there was widespread support for the sale.
However, councillors on the ruling Conservative group voted in favour of asking the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, for permission to dispose of the two pieces of art.
Because the council wants to use the proceeds to fund the new museum and not to buy new art, its lawyers believe that her consent is needed as her position holds an historic role as the representative of public interest.