Lisbon, 12 November 2018
Dear Vice-Chancellor Jane Longmore,
UMAC, the Committee for University Museums and Collections of the International Council of Museums, is disheartened to learn of the closure of the gallery housing the Bishop Otter Collection of important 20th century art at the University of Chichester.
The Otter Gallery is featured in UMAC’s World Database of University Museums and Collections and well-known in the UMAC-community. We express our deepest concern for the future of the Bishop Otter Collection in the absence of a purpose-built secure gallery. We are also concerned about the effects that the closure of the Otter Gallery will have on the University as a whole, the Chichester community and the wider public.
The arguments against the decision of the Vice-Chancellors’ Group of Chichester University earlier this year have been widely examined and commented upon in the British museum community as well as in the media. They undermine the vision of the University of Chichester to become “internationally recognized as a beacon of good practice for high quality, student-centred higher education”. The loss of a vital teaching space that has inspired several generations of students is not good practice nor high quality student-centred higher education. The dismissal of a legacy whose origins date back to the late 19th century is rare in a University that wants to project an image of prestige and stability, particularly among future students, donors and stakeholders in the UK and abroad. The lack of consultation and debate, especially relevant in the case of the Bishop Otter Gallery – the only free public art gallery with a permanent collection in Chichester – was also stressed by the media as was the likely loss of museum accreditation status if the collection abandons its dedicated gallery.
UMAC would like to focus, however, on your responsibility towards the integrity of this remarkable collection. The decision to disperse the Bishop Otter Collection across several campuses places its conservation and security at great risk. Works of art have disappeared in the past and the establishment of a dedicated gallery was precisely aimed at diminishing that risk. It was then considered, rightly so, that the preservation of these outstanding works was more important than the founders’ ‘original vision’.
The Bishop Otter Gallery has been officially closed for a month now. We understand that it will temporarily re-open this month for a short exhibition. We are convinced that the decision can be reversed, and the Bishop Otter Gallery can be permanently reopened. It occupied practically no space in the campus (less than 100 m2) and its curator worked on a voluntary basis supported by volunteers, thus its operational costs were close to zero. However, the costs of closure, for Chichester University’s reputation, in the UK and internationally, are clear.
Trusting that you want to return the Bishop Otter Gallery to the fruition of your students and the public, we will be following the developments closely,
Marta C. Lourenço
President of UMAC-ICOM
University of Lisbon, Portugal
Suay Aksoy, President of the International Council of Museums, ICOM
Sébastien Soubiran, President of the European Academic Heritage Network (Universeum)
Tonya Nelson, Chair of ICOM-UK
Maggie Appleton, President of the Museums Association UK
The Otter Gallery is UMAC COLLECTION OF THE MONTH in November 2018.