University criticised over expensive artwork
- 14 May 2013
- From the section Education & Family
A leading university has been criticised for spending £1.4m on artwork, including works by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.
Durham University added to its art collection as part of a £60m development, which opened last year.
But the public sector workers' union, Unison, said the expense could not be justified at a time of austerity.
The university defended the move, saying it was a "custodian" of fine treasures and offered free tours.
The art collection includes works by 20th Century greats such as Picasso and Warhol, as well as pieces by artists from across the North-East.
The artwork is being displayed as part of the £60m Gateway development, which has seen a brown-field site on a key university site redeveloped with environmentally sustainable buildings.
Unison says the collection, which was added when the university kitted out the new administrative Palatine Centre, the Law School, the Mountjoy Centre and a library extension, is too expensive.
John McDade from Unison said a survey by the union had found 555 workers at the university were paid less than the living wage (currently £7.45 an hour).
"We are not saying art is not important, but it is about priorities," he said.
"You wouldn't go out and buy a chandelier for your house if you couldn't afford to feed your family."
Mr McDade said while the institution may claim the art enhanced its reputation, low pay rates detracted from it.
A spokesman for the university said: "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 university organises free guided tours of the collection and staff, students and members of the public are encouraged to come and enjoy it.
"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."
Last year thieves broke into the university's Oriental Museum and stole Chinese items worth more than £2m.