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Council sells off its culture to invest in..... culture

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THE most valuable items from Croydon's renowned collection of Chinese ceramics may be sold by the council.

Bowls and vases from the Riesco Collection will be auctioned to raise nearly £13 million towards refurbishing Fairfield Halls.

Labour accused the council of orchestrating a "scorched earth" approach to culture, in which the arts complex will be the only attraction left standing in the town.

The David Lean Cinema, the Clocktower, the Warehouse Theatre and Croydon Summer Festival have all been scrapped or subject to funding cuts in recent years.

The council now plans to sell 24 items, including artifacts from the Tang and Ming dynasties, from a 230-piece collection which was left to Croydon by local businessman and collector Raymond Riesco in 1959.

It said the decision "comes after escalating insurance and security costs meant the full collection was becoming too expensive to maintain".

But when asked by the Advertiser to provide more detail, a spokesman said the sale would reduce the loan repayments on the £27 million it had committed to the planned Fairfield refurbishment by approximately £700,000 a year.

This would also allow the council to deliver the refurbishment sooner, the press officer added.

The council also said it had the blessing of 98-year-old Jean Riesco, Raymond's last surviving child.

Labour is backing a petition that has been set up calling on the plan to be dropped.

"At the last two council elections the Tories have promised to refurbish Fairfield Halls," said Timothy Godfrey, shadow cabinet member for culture.

"If the sale the Riesco Collection does not happen, does that mean the refurbishment of Fairfield is off as well?

"Their scorched earth approach to culture, where nothing but Fairfield matters, is turning Croydon into a dormitory town where people sleep but have to go to London to get their culture.

"I don't think we should sell off our heritage.

"The Riesco Collection is something nice we should be encouraging people to come and see.

"Instead the council seems intent on making us more and more like Sutton – empty and without any character."

The pieces in question were, until six weeks ago, stored underneath the Town Hall in Katharine Street, before being moved to a bank at a secret central London location.

The council said increased insurance costs would cost £22,000 a year.

It would not be the first time items from the collection have been sold.

In 1970 and 1984 around half of the original collection was "disposed of", the council said, the latter sale raising £250,000.

"We are now looking at the possibility of more of the cultural benefit bequeathed to the borough by Mr Riesco being realised by breathing new life into the Fairfield Halls," a spokesman added.

"This is a sensible and practical move as otherwise there would be an increase in annual insurance costs to the collection.

"There is also the need to significantly upgrade our existing security measures."

The council would not reveal how much new safeguards would cost or why they were suddenly needed.

There are currently 206 pieces of the collection on display in the Museum of Croydon.

The Ashcroft Theatre may be renamed the Riesco Theatre in tribute to one of the borough's most respected families.

Paul Sowan, vice-president of the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society, said: "I would say this was the thin end of the wedge but we've already seen that when the previous items were sold.

"We're beyond the thin edge and you have to wonder how long before we end up selling off the rest of the family silver?"

The council's corporate services committee will make a final decision about the sale on July 24.

Council sells off its culture to invest in..... culture


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