Bryan Ferry is backing a £3.5m plan to develop a North East art gallery – and now the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has followed suit.
The heritage body has pledged £154,000 in development funding, signalling its belief that the plan to develop the Hatton Gallery at Newcastle University is worthy of further lottery investment.
The university, with Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM), will now advance the project with a view to making a further funding bid.
Plans for the Hatton are based on conserving its history and impressive architecture while creating modern exhibition spaces.
Part of the vision includes better interpretation of the famous Merz Barn sculpture, one of the finest surviving works by German artist Kurt Schwitters.
Schwitters, a pioneer in the dada and surrealism schools of art, was a refugee from Nazi Germany who was interned on the Isle of Man and then settled in the Lake District.
There, at Elterwater, he started to decorate the inside of a barn with odds and ends in an effort to recreate his grotto-like artwork that had been destroyed by Allied bombing in Germany.
In the 1960s, long after Schwitters’ death, the one completed wall of the so-called Merz Barn was rescued and taken to the Hatton Gallery in an operation supervised by art lecturer Richard Hamilton, now remembered as a leading pop art figure.
Ivor Crowther, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: “HLF’s initial support means the Hatton Gallery can get exciting plans underway that will cement the gallery’s status as a major cultural and heritage resource in the North East.
“Based in the architecturally impressive listed Edwardian building, the gallery will be transformed into a vibrant public space where visitors from near and far can learn about and enjoy the varied and nationally important collections and take part in the myriad activities and training opportunities that will be on offer.”
Prof Eric Cross, dean of cultural affairs at the university, said: “The Hatton offers a distinctive atmosphere and sense of place which embodies the university’s civic pride and provides visitors with a unique cultural experience.
“This project will offer new and exciting opportunities for people of all ages to enjoy and engage with historical and contemporary art.”
Iain Watson, director of TWAM, hailed “fantastic news” for a gallery which had been “an important part of the arts and cultural scene in Newcastle for over 90 years”.
The Hatton is part of the university’s fine art department. Among illustrious graduates is singer Bryan Ferry, patron of the Hatton Future campaign which is also backed by Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate.
He said: “My four years at Newcastle University fine art department were crucial in my development as an artist and musician. While I was there, studying under Richard Hamilton, I met many like-minded students who became friends for life.”