Preserving the dual role of a university

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David Walker's article on university museums' funding is welcome in that it draws attention both to the rich cultural assets to which some universities are custodians, and to the costs involved in their maintenance. This narrative omits two structural points:

1. It is the lamentable national erosion of the university as an intellectual centre, as opposed to a site for instruction leading to the award of degrees, that results in the notional choice between labs and galleries. At Manchester, Chemistry and the Whitworth Gallery both owe their origins to a late-Victorian belief in learning and philanthropy. It is mistaken to suggest that the one can be compromised without cost to the other.

2. If universities see their galleries as problems, thinking they might fare better as outposts of national museums, national museums are adopting some of the functions of universities. The V&A, for one, is increasingly directly involved in postgraduate education.

Certainly the funding problems upon which your writer focuses are serious. However, neither the benefits of teaching with original objects, nor the advantages to a large community of a civilised space containing beautiful and historic things, encapsulates adequately the relationship between Academe and the Gallery. This relationship, at its best, is an intellectual bridge between history as argument and objects as affect, between material evidence and epistemology. Proposals to change the status and funding of university museums and galleries should be made only in the context of an enlightened and forward-looking approach to this relationship.

Professor Marcia Pointon

Head of Department of Art History

and Archaeology,

University of Manchester