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.
The 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.
“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