UK News Electronic Telegraph
Wednesday 11 June 1997
Issue 747

Catherine Cookson throws lifeline to threatened gallery
By Nigel Bunyan

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Catherine Cookson information

DAME Catherine Cookson, the novelist, appeared last night to have saved one of Britain's most renowned art galleries after pledging �0,000 funding over the next five years.

Her intervention came after the University of Newcastle decided to withdraw its sponsorship of the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne. This decision had provoked anger and dismay among art lovers and academics, who were concerned about the future of some of Europe's most prized works of art. These include 12 tons of Dadaist art and a collection of paintings from Goya to Bacon.

Last night Prof Richard Bailey, the university's provice chancellor, praised Dame Catherine for her "enormously generous gesture". He said that he had received her initial cheque for �,000. Further cheques are thought likely to guarantee the gallery's future until 2002.

Prof Bailey said: "With her help we can revitalise the gallery and make it even more central to the arts on Tyneside and in the region. It is a challenge to the many supporters of the Hatton Gallery to match her generosity, but we are delighted with her splendid gift. The Hatton has been given a second chance and if not actually saved as yet it is well on its way to a rebirth. We need about �0,000 a year and we are getting together a business plan. Once news of Dame Catherine's intervention spreads we will be approaching various bodies with a view to finding sponsorship."

Prof Bailey said that while the novelist had previously been generous to the university, her offer of help for the Hatton Gallery had been unexpected. Bill Varley, a fine arts lecturer at the university and leader of a campaign to save the gallery, said he was "overjoyed" by the donation.

"My feelings are ones of sheer ecstasy. It is quite simply a phenomenal gesture. With this kind of funding over the next five years it gives us a platform to get more funding from organisations such as the lottery," he said. "Unless people are incompetent this funding has provided a platform for the gallery to survive for some time."

Members of the university senate had voted to withdraw funding to the gallery as part of an attempt to reduce its budget by between three and six per cent. Had Dame Catherine not intervened, they might have faced a legal challenge by disgruntled art lovers.

Critics said that closure of the gallery would save only between �,000 and �,000 a year. "To close one of the finest showing spaces this country has seen for the sake of �,000 is sheer madness. Its loss would be a cultural crime against the country," said Mr Varley.

Muriel Hall, of Boston, Lincs, was so outraged by the prospect of closure that she pledged �000 towards the gallery's upkeep, before Dame Catherine's offer yesterday. Dame Catherine lives as a virtual recluse in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne.

11 September 1996: Cookson's singing debut at 90

Next report: Canterbury to make visitors pay on Sundays

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