Closure of art gallery 'a cultural crime'

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University chiefs at Newcastle University were meeting last night to discuss whether to close the Hatton Gallery, a move condemned by lecturers and art historians as a cultural crime.

The University is said to be facing budget cuts of 6 per cent over the next three years and would save an estimated pounds 45,000 a year from closure of the gallery. It says it needs to focus on the "core activities" of teaching and research.

But lecturers claim the gallery itself is a teaching tool, and that the benefits of keeping it intact outweigh the small monetary gain.

The Gallery contains thousands of works whose fate is unclear, including an installation by the German Dadaist, Kurt Schwitters, the only remaining of three constructed after he came to Britain as a refugee.

Established in 1926, it is open to the public five days a week, and is regarded as one of the most impressive exhibition spaces in Britain. Contemporary artists such as Richard Hamilton, Sean Scully and Victor Pasmore have shown there.

The collection includes a Goya, Francis Bacon's 1962 Study for a Portrait, drawings by Sickert, an anonymous 16th-century Flemish panel and two 15th-century Sienese altarpiece panels.

The proposed closure caused a public outcry, with the director of the National Art Collections Fund describing it as "shameful".

David Barrie wrote in a letter objecting to the closure last week: "The Hatton is a distinguished collection: not only is it a great teaching resource for the university but it is also open to the public free of charge. Closure would fly in the face of the new Heritage Secretary's commitment to education and access."

This is not the first time a university's art collection has suffered due to budgetary constraints. In 1993 Royal Holloway and Bedford New College caused a public outcry when it sold off an pounds 11m Turner painting to help fund the upkeep of its buildings.