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Drawings collection must be sacrosanct

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Margaret Richardson has accused RIBA Treasurer Colin James of making the suggestion that the Drawings Collection could be 'systematically quarried and sold off ' (AJ 5.3.98) He denies this (AJ 19.3.98).

Can we really believe that Margaret Richardson, one of the original creators of the modern Drawings Collection, misconstrued such an alarming suggestion?

The answer must be that Colin James did make this remark. Indeed, he made it in RIBA Council, when he produced a document itemising the assets of the British Architectural Library, and in particular the Drawings Collection. RIBA treasurers in the past have greedily eyed the Drawings Collection as a potential source of funds. Most have been disabused and have retreated at the alarming prospect of the awful retribution should such a possible sale take place.

As I wrote in the Art Newspaper (7.3.98), 'all hell would be let loose' on the RIBA. It would attract national and international opprobium, a devastating Special General Meeting, massive resignations not only of honorary but of ordinary members, rejection by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, and rejection by every grant-giving body, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum or the National Art Collections Fund.

I find Mr James's letter defensively confusing. What does he imply by a 'constructive tension between those with a curatorial interest and those who take bold steps at a difficult time'? I and others would interpret 'bold steps' to be an excuse for selling off drawings as the last resort.

Let me be blunt Mr James: take such a 'bold step' in flogging off and decimating the greatest collection of architectural drawings in the world, and the RIBA and you will be pulled down. I am not mincing my words.


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