University spends £1.4 million on art

PalatineCentreArtNicolettaAsciuto300x200by Harriet Line

The University has spent £1.4 million purchasing and installing works of art as part of the £60 million Gateway development programme, which includes the new Palatine Centre and Law School.

This figure is nearly five times the original budget of £294,000.

The expense was slammed a “total disgrace” by Archie Dallas, Durham Students’ Union President, who commented: “I can’t believe that the University think it’s appropriate to blow that much money on art.

“They seem to have forgotten that this is money that has come from student pockets, which is hilarious when you consider that the vast majority of it is hidden from students. Don’t get me wrong, art is crucial, but this amount of money could be spent on student facilities, bursaries or, in fact, almost anything more worthwhile. In short, it’s a total disgrace.”

This expenditure comes just a year after the University announced that it would raise tuition fees to £9,000.

After a five month battle with the University to disclose the cost, Palatinate demanded an Internal Review of the decision to refuse the Freedom of Information request. The review concluded that the University took an ‘overly cautious view’ by not releasing the information for security reasons, owing to the break-in at the Oriental Museum where Chinese artefacts worth £2 million were stolen in April 2012.

Prof. Ray Hudson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, recognised in the review that there is “Strong public interest in knowing how public money is spent and in ensuring the University is transparent and accountable in its decision making processes.

“It is the University’s responsibility to take all reasonable precautions to safeguard all of its assets.”

The collection of art includes work by Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder, and aims to enhance the lines, forms and beauty of the interior of the Palatine Centre, which provides office accommodation for the Executive Committee and professional support services.

Only the ground floor is accessible to students, and so artwork on other floors can only be viewed on weekly tours conducted by Henry Dyson, Keeper of Fine Art in the University.

ArtPC_NicolettaAsciuto_002The tour highlights the prized pieces of the collection, including a 30-metre long mural painting entitled Crystal Forms by Northumberland- born artist David Venables, and a sculpture – Elvet Colliery – by County- Durham artist Peter Sales, showing the history of mining activity on the site of the Palatine Centre. The Sphere of Redemption, representing the Jewish theme of Redemption and reconciliation of opposites, sits prominently in the Palatine Centre reception, whilst other sculptures such as the Cry for Justice and Analemmatic Sundial, can be found around the Science Site.

A spokesperson for the University said that: “Durham University is a custodian of many fine treasures and developing our collections of graphic art and sculpture for public display was an essential part of the original concept for the Palatine Centre.

“This amount of money could be spent on student facilities” Archie Dallas

“Some of the artwork was specially commissioned and reflects the University’s academic strengths and the heritage of our region. The works that can now be viewed in the Centre, in the adjacent Law School and nearby public spaces represent a rich and varied presentation of 20th and 21st century art.”

“The Palatine Centre was part of the wider £60m Gateway Programme, funded through a mixture of capital grants from the Higher Education Funding Council, University reserves, property disposals and bank borrowing.

“£294k was provided within the original project budget under the “per cent for art” scheme; the balance was funded from savings in the capital programme as a whole.”

Photographs: Nicoletta Asciuto

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37 Responses

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  1. William Horrocks
    May 09, 2013 - 01:59 PM

    Oh, fantastic. And what has been going on in Elvet Riverside over the last few months? Oh yeah.

  2. Joe
    May 09, 2013 - 02:31 PM

    I think this is an excellent use of the university’s money. Those 3D pyramid perspective things on the wall near reception are the coooolest things I’ve ever seen. Well worth the £1.4 million!

  3. Ed
    May 09, 2013 - 03:32 PM

    Elvet is falling apart, quite literally, a bit of metal from the stairs nearly came down on me the other day, the DSU needs sorting out, and money’s being wasted; this university is being run by complete and utter morons

    • WM
      May 09, 2013 - 11:47 PM

      Yet interestingly, a lot of the university’s big-shots are senior lecturers and academics.

      It just goes to show that no matter how ‘world-leading’ a person is within their academic circle, it can rarely compensate for a dearth of skills in managing both financial and human capital.

  4. Niall Oddy
    May 09, 2013 - 05:15 PM

    Is the £ 1.4 m the full cost? How much does this Henry Dyson get paid, for example?

    • anon
      May 09, 2013 - 05:29 PM

      He does it out of love.. No salary.

      • Psh
        May 11, 2013 - 11:54 PM

        ^ Ooh maybe he’s read all this! What do you have to say for yourself, Henry (/Henry supporter)?

    • sheena
      May 09, 2013 - 06:56 PM

      And sucks up dirt along the way…. what a name!

  5. Bob
    May 09, 2013 - 06:55 PM

    Amazing, so there was some money left over from the overly opulent spending on a new library that is completely inadequate (ahh but it looks nice) so he syphoned it off to line his halls with art?
    Exam period aside, most of the year I can hardly find a place to sit and I’ll be crapping gold before I can find a computer to use in the new ‘improved library’. It has to be the most inefficient use of limited space I have ever seen, its ok though tomorrow when I’m reading books from 1960 sat on someone elses lap I can smile with the new knowledge that a genuine Warhol is in an area I can’t visit just 50 meters from me.
    This 100% backs up what a cun*ish place Durham University is. How could this even be considered as acceptable, what planet is this guy living on.

  6. Dave
    May 09, 2013 - 06:57 PM

    I hardly think the University has ‘blown’ this money. Let’s not forget that the Arts are chronically underfunded and investment like this means graduates in the Arts (which already suffer from far higher unemployment than Science graduates) can actually scrape some sort of a living together. I can see people might be angry that more has been spent than estimated, but by usual University investment standards £1.4m is hardly water off a duck’s back. Give Art a break!

    • anon
      May 09, 2013 - 09:10 PM

      I can understand putting money into local commissions by this logic, but buying Andy Warhol’s and Picasso’s does nothing to help artists in the North East. The money spent on those could definitely have been better used elsewhere, in Elvet Riverside for instance.

  7. Annabel Laura
    May 09, 2013 - 09:17 PM

    This is terrible. With accommodation costs going through the ROOF, this is simply unjustifiable. The university’s expenditure seems to be getting continually more ridiculous and out of touch what is actually REQUIRED for its students!

  8. Sort it out
    May 09, 2013 - 09:43 PM

    Out of touch. The hostage crying on the floor of the Law Dept is hard enough to bear, but this cost is phenomenal. How about spend this money on sorting Elvet Riverside? On making sure the University still has some sort of presence in the town it originated from? And the corridors are too wide.

  9. Matt Plampton
    May 09, 2013 - 09:43 PM

    Factual error, students can access all levels. Considering the Undergraduate work room is on the second floor…. Also, art is an investment, hopefully this investment should mature in time and mean the university increases in value. It’s what all the other big universities do!

    • Adeylah Ellmi
      May 10, 2013 - 07:44 AM

      Not a factual error. Students can’t access all levels in the Palatine Centre. You might be thinking of the Law section.

      • Jason Smyth
        May 10, 2013 - 08:54 AM

        Yes, but the artwork is all throughout the building on the law side as well, which can be viewed by students.

  10. Darren Doyle
    May 09, 2013 - 10:19 PM

    So the Northbank in Queens Campus remains an empty field, with an impressive bridge that lead to nothing instead of more facilities, due to budgeting restraints, and then this happens. Just wow…

  11. ARLB
    May 09, 2013 - 10:29 PM

    This art collection is not an expense, it is an asset. An organisation like Durham university should be using its financial resources to the greatest advantage. Provided proper commercial advice was taken when the work was bought, you can expect decent steady returns fairly decoupled from other asset classes.
    People shouldn’t be getting hysterical, although I don’t know why the university hasn’t been pressing this point.

    • John
      May 10, 2013 - 10:31 AM

      And there was me thinking the University was an education provider as opposed to an investment corporation. There is no steady return on art, it needs to be sold before any return is seen which is no different to gold. They have essentially built themselves a gold throne using the money of their ‘customers’. I understand the desire for prestige, and i am willing to appreciate art, but I worked for a company high in the FTSE 100 whose head office was less decadent than the current student ‘support’ service. It’s an extravagance that is difficult to justify.

      • ARLB
        May 10, 2013 - 09:44 PM

        Investment corporation? Every company has assets, every university has assets. Art does have a steady return, it is a commodity but does not behave like gold. I don’t care what company you work for.

        • Sam Smith
          May 21, 2013 - 10:19 AM

          Art does not have a steady return – it does not generate income.

          A return would be cash coming in the door, that could then be spent on fixing our leaking roofs etc.

          Whilst art may appreciate in value above inflation, it does not bring any money in. As it in-fact requires cash to keep it (leaning, environmental control, security – the later being costly) it actually reduces the cash available so I guess you could say that it has a steady NEGATIVE return.

          So hardly a suitable use of resources really, considering that the university is not an investment firm or an art museum.

  12. sam
    May 10, 2013 - 10:46 AM

    This equates to almost 8% of this years teaching budget…..
    Taken from another article:
    “teaching funding, this year it will be receiving only £18,690,000”

    Hardly seems fair really.

  13. Michael
    May 11, 2013 - 10:25 PM

    The tuition fees don’t mean more money for the university…
    Also, I highly doubt they didn’t get some kind of sponsorship for the artwork – were any university staff contacted regarding the art?

    • James
      May 11, 2013 - 10:43 PM

      Well obviously, the article quotes the uni…

  14. Alan
    May 13, 2013 - 10:03 AM

    Spending on Heritage assets is disclosed in the University’s financial statements – see Note 12 on page 35/36 which shows £845k spent in 2011/12.

    These are free to download on the Uni’s website

    So the notion that the Uni is hiding the figure doesn’t hold water.

    It’s also worth noting (page 15) that only 33% of the University’s income comes from student tuition fees. So Archie’s quote that the money comes from students’ pockets is not really true either.

    • DM
      May 15, 2013 - 10:56 PM

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but the financial statements are for the year ending 2011-12, meaning that income from student fees was from those paying £3000. From this year onwards, with the £9000 fees and the HEFCE grant cut, student fees as a percentage of income will be much larger.

      Again, since these financial statements are from this year, and financial statements for the current year won’t be available until well into next year, an FoI request was needed to obtain the figures.

  15. Martha
    May 14, 2013 - 09:39 PM

    It is fair to say that this art work is an investment but it is an investment at the wrong time. What we need now are better facilities and investment in our infrastructure. A better idea for investing now would have been encouraging art-savvy students to come up with their own paintings and holding a contest and the best paintings would be used in order to encourage students to develop their talents. One day one of the students art-work could be worth more than a Picasso for all we know. This is a stupid investment which will only go to boost the egos of senior executives at the university and it is unfair and not beneficial to students. Queen’s campus needs more work done hopefully a bigger library and more housing facilities, Elvet riverside is tumbling down, DSU needs work. THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO BE BUYING ART!

  16. Blow Joggs
    May 15, 2013 - 09:36 AM

    The money could have been better spent many of the different teaching and research buildings that have leaking roofs or other major problems.

    I suppose blowing £1,400,000 on pictures makes the VCs £20,000, 10% pay rise seems less disproportionate. Unless of course you are any of the other 1000+ staff who saw a 1% increment.

  17. Cutler
    May 15, 2013 - 10:44 AM

    As I, along with several other members of the general public visited the Palatine’s wonderful Art collection, Imarvelled at the fact that this timeless asset will grow in value over time to the benefit of the Durham and the North East in general. When one considers how many millions are regularly paid out as bonuses to bankers into their personal bank accounts and how many millions are also paid to footballers in Britain each week, the priceless collection of art which includes work by many local artists is a real bargain and one that should be applauded and not denigrated as being money that has been “blown away”.

    • Sam Smith
      May 15, 2013 - 11:04 AM

      If it was in an art gallery it would benefit the region in general. Perhaps it would benefit the university if we used the canvases to patch some of the holes in the roofs…

  18. Kelly
    May 15, 2013 - 01:11 PM

    Visiting Durham I have had a guided tour of the Palatine
    Centre. I am utterly amazed at the ignorance of this unfounded criticism.
    My wife and I have travelled all over the world, visiting art galleries
    in some of the most famous cities in Europe, Australia and the United
    States. Great names are featured in this collection but so are those of local artists, given a chance of exposure in a major architecturally-pleasing space.

    The city of Durham and its University have reason to be enormously proud of the impressive collection of modern art so superbly displayed in the Palatine Centre. It is one of the great collections of this country and whatever it cost, it is money well spent. Art is much more than an investment in money terms. It enriches the spirit and is an essential ingredient in life. The University is fulfilling its responsibilities in making such fine examples available to its students, employees and visitors alike. A visitor to Durham is in awe of its magnificent Cathedral and Castle. Now, the Palatine Centre Art Collection can be added to its priceless attractions.
    As a member of the public I would like to commend those with the vision who have achieved this. They are to be congratulated – not chastised.

    • Student
      May 15, 2013 - 11:40 PM

      Its very difficult for a Picasso to ‘enrich the spirit’ of students when its hanging 20 feet up on the wall. Most of the artwork isn’t ‘available’ to students because it can’t be viewed from the accessible floors and is in a building students infrequently go to. Perhaps it should be in the library if that is its purpose.

    • james
      May 20, 2013 - 08:45 AM

      If the university wants to be part education facility, part tourist attraction I would rather the 1.4 million was spent on a roller coaster.

      Failing that, better education facilities would be good.

  19. Ann Rachlin MBE
    May 17, 2013 - 09:59 PM

    I am perturbed to see the
    many photographs of The Sphere of
    Redemption splurged across your publication and consequently picked up by
    national newspapers and the BBC.

    As a close member of the family of the artist Fay Pomerance, I would like to make it abundantly clear to you and your readers that The Sphere of
    Redemption together with many other important examples of the work of my
    cousin, was part of an extensive collection gifted to the University of Durham
    by her family more than ten years ago.

    Fay Pomerance (1912 – 2001) is well known as a Visionary and Pioneering Anglo Jewish Artist. Her work has been exhibited in Israel, the
    USA, Europe and extensively in the UK, as well as three times in the University of Durham.
    1975 Trevelyan College
    1979 Grey College
    1999 St. Mary’s College.

    Fay Pomerance is highly regarded as one of the most original and courageous artists of her day.

    After her death in 2001,The Sphere of Redemption and the four
    panels belonging to the Theme (now exhibited in Fountains Hall Grey College) were generously given to the University under the custodianship of The Grey College Trust in 2003 on the understanding that they would be displayed in places where students, staff and visitors could access them. They are important and unique art forms, part of a large art collection in Durham of growing international importance.

    The family of Fay Pomerance is deeply offended by the inference that her work, so generously donated to the University, should be associated with this tirade by the President of the Durham Students’ Union implying that her Sphere of Redemption was purchased and was money “blown away” and as such was “a total disgrace”. If there is any disgrace involved, it is that such an outburst should be voiced by Archie Dallas and given major publicity on the front page of your publication displaying the image of this unique work of art that was a gift to Durham University.

    Ann Rachlin – East Sussex

    • Sam Smith
      May 18, 2013 - 02:19 PM

      I’m sure they would have loved to have used a photograph of one of the artworks that money was blown away on, but us proles (academics, undergraduates, researchers etc.) are not allowed into that part of the building – it is reserved for the all important Administratorial class, whom the rest of us are here to serve by working hard to bring money in, to pay their wages and art bills…

    • Paul Brown
      May 20, 2013 - 08:41 AM

      I believe that any inference between this article and the ‘sphere of indifference’ would be due to the photography editor who perhaps would have taken a photo of the actual art our money was wasted on had they been able to visit it. While its lovely that you donated this weird sphere to the university, it would not actually make any difference to our lives if it wasn’t here, along with the rest of the art. However, at a time when financial pressure surrounds us all (up here at least) there would have been far better uses of the money.

  20. Alex Hunt
    Oct 15, 2013 - 10:05 PM

    The thing about art is that to non-specialists differences in quality are almost impossible to identify – a £5 piece from a local school (or even Durham’s own students!) gives me the same level of “cultural enhancement” as a Picasso piece.
    A nicely painted wall might well be even better.

    I’d love to see the cost/benefit analysis for buying this art – It seems to have received bad PR, almost as if the University just found that it had £1.4 million that it didn’t know what to do with, till someone mentioned that the walls looked at
    bit bare…

    They might have good investment reasons for buying art, it might act as a renowned “cultural draw”, but it’s certainly not been presented as such.


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