A prominent North East art gallery which is in serious need of updating has just days left to benefit from a scheme that boosts private donations.
Ambitious plans have been drawn up for the Hatton Gallery, an established public attraction at Newcastle University, and a £3.5m fund-raising campaign has been launched.
Money raised through the Hatton Future appeal will be used to revitalise the gallery through a mixture of conservation and modernisation, with a reopening pencilled in for 2017.
A scheme put in place by Arts Council England means every pound donated privately attracts matched funding, making it worth considerably more.
With the additional benefit of tax relief through Gift Aid, donations of £10, £25, £50 and £100 will be worth £19.17, £47.92, £95.83 and £191.67 respectively to Hatton Future.
But only donations made before the cut-off point of Wednesday, May 20 will qualify. Hence the sense of urgency at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) which manages the Hatton Gallery on behalf of Newcastle University where it is also a resource in the fine art department.
Iain Watson, director of TWAM, said: “It’s not a question of the gallery being under imminent threat (of closure) but this signficant investment is necessary because it is tired and systems don’t work.
“Ultimately, if we don’t raise this funding it will be much harder to keep going. Already the light fittings are obsolete so we can’t get any replacements and the heating system needs to be improved.
“We have to ensure the right conditions for the upkeep of the Hatton collection and the gallery, in order to survive, needs to be able to attract national exhibitions.”
A Government indemnity scheme covers galleries showing exhibitions with valuable works of art but in order to qualify they have to meet exacting environmental and security standards.
Iain Watson said the university provided the core revenue funding for the Hatton and some capital investment – but he highlighted its public role.
“I think one of the things that we are really articulating through this project is that there is something special about having a public art gallery in a space used by fine art students.
“The Hatton collection is complementary to those at the Shipley (in Gateshead) and the Laing (Newcastle). It shows the kind of teaching that took place around modernism and the ‘Basic Design’ process which was developed in Newcastle by (Victor) Pasmore and (Richard) Hamilton.”
These pioneers joined the staff of Newcastle University (actually King’s College, Durham, until 1963) in the 1950s and helped to make its fine art department one of the most popular and innovative in the country.
Bryan Ferry, who found fame with Roxy Music, was one of their students and is lead patron of the Hatton Future campaign.
Then there’s the Merz Barn by Kurt Schwitters, the German artist who fled to Norway and then Britain after his art was condemned as degenerate by the Nazis.
During his final years, when living in the Lake District, he strove to recreate an extraordinary work of art that had started to take over his home in Hanover before the war. This was the Merzbau, a sort of all-enveloping 3D collage.
Condemned by the Nazis, it was actually destroyed unwittingly by the Allies on a bombing raid in 1943.
Schwitters had another go in Norway before leaving for the UK in 1940 but this example of his singular approach to art burned down in 1951.
The Merz Barn, at Elterwater, was his last attempt. With a windfall £1,000 from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Schwitters spent long hours transforming the barn’s interior but died in 1948 before it was finished.
At the instigation of Richard Hamilton, one wall of the increasingly fragile structure was removed and installed in the Hatton in 1965.
It remains the star exhibit and the Hatton Future plans include a new gallery for the iconic structure, along with a new learning space and better visitor facilities.
As well as May 20, another significant date looms for the Hatton. The Heritage Lottery Fund encouraged the preparation of a development plan for the Hatton with a stage one grant.
A decision on stage two funding, which could net £2.5m, is expected in July.
Meanwhile one of the Hatton’s fans was in Newcastle recently to offer support.
Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate, whose concerns include Tate Britain and Tate Modern, gave a talk at the university highlighting the gallery’s importance.
He said: “The Hatton Gallery is an incredible resource and the plans for the improvement and development of the gallery will ensure that it continues to play a vital part of the university and the wider community in Newcastle.”
Prof Eric Cross, dean of cultural affairs, said: “The importance of the Hatton’s collections and the gallery’s longstanding creative relationship with our staff and students in fine art should not be underestimated and I’m delighted that Sir Nicholas is lending his support to ensure the Hatton stays at the forefront of modern and contemporary art.”
The Hatton Gallery opens Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, and entry is free.
This Saturday, May 9, offers the last chance to see the Victor Pasmore exhibition, In Three Dimensions, at the Hatton while Invisible Cities, an exhibition organised by students studying for an MA in art curatorship, runs until May 16.
For details about the Hatton Future campaign and how to donate, visit www.hattonfuture.com or tel. 0191 2772196.