By Charlie Taylor-Kroll
Durham University has been ranked the third highest English university spender on artwork, with expenditure totaling over £2 million since 2010.
A Freedom of Information request issued by the BBC on the amount English universities spend on art saw the University ranked as the third highest spender in the last five years, only being outspent by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
Durham University’s total spend was £2.6 million between 2010 and 2015, over four times as much as Oxford Brookes University, who was ranked one place below Durham on art expenditure.
In light of the findings of the Freedom of Information request, Durham University told Palatinate:
“Durham University is a custodian of many fine treasures; we develop our collections of graphic art and sculpture for public display.”
The University also claimed that the collection, the majority of which is kept in the Palatine Centre, was among ‘’the largest and most successful in the UK.”
Of the £2.6 million sum, £1.4 million was spent on purchasing and installing works of art in 2013 as a part of a £60 million development programme, which included the construction of the Palatine Centre and Law School.
At the time of the development, the University was criticised for its expenditure on art by the public sector workers’ union Unison, who argued that it is difficult to justify spending so much on art work in times of austerity.
Palatinate reported that the £1.4 million expenditure in 2013 was nearly five times the University’s original budget of just under £300,000 at the time.
The £1.4 million brought a lucrative collection of art work, including a collection of African art, and works by Sandra Blow, Victor Vaserely, Alexander Calder, Terry Frost, and Andy Warhol.
Durham University’s most expensive piece of art work, however, lies outside of the Palatine Centre.
The “Geosculpture,” a geological map of the UK which lies adjacent to the pavement, was the most expensive piece of art in the £2.6 million over the last five years.
The sculpture, which was created by John De Pauley, will be a familiar site for those walking from Church Street to the Science Site.
The University claims that supporters have assisted in raising funds to allow the Durham art collection to grow, including the £90,000 geological map, which was funded by private donations.
They told Palatinate: “The Geosculpture created by John De Pauley, and located near the Bill Bryson library, was largely funded by donations.”
In relation to the need for an extensive and expensive art collection, the University believes that its art collection has a myriad of benefits to the University, as well as to the city of Durham.
They said: “A regular programme of public exhibitions is staged in Palace Green Library, the World Heritage Site Visitors Centre, and the Oriental Museum.
“In addition, the University organises free guided tours of the art collection in the Palatine Centre and Law School, and staff, students, and members of the public are encouraged to come and enjoy it.”
Art tours have previously been conducted by Henry Dyson, who is the Keeper of Fine Art at Durham University, with tours offered to both the staff and the students of the University.
The University art collection is not just offered for viewing by Durham students and staff, but also to the general public.
“Virtually the whole of the University’s collections are on public display.
“They are also available for loan to other institutions,” the University said in a statement.
Photograph: Joyce Uerpairojkit