About Universities Art Collections

Few know that many universities double up to be a paradise for art lovers as well as centres of education. University art collections are neither a new nor an uncommon feature across the higher education sector. Often, they are made up of old portraits of past Vice Chancellors providing history, education, and
decoration. However sometimes, universities invest in their art collections as a side activity, purchasing modern and contemporary art, showing exhibitions, and even setting up their own galleries. 

Common reasons for university art collections are:

  • Historical collection started by a previous Vice Chancellor

  • Wealth Management

  • Education

  • Culture and Heritage

  • Gifts from donors

Among the most famous university art collections are:

1/ The Asmolean Museum by the University of Oxford. The Art collection was founded in 1683
when antiquary Elias Ashmole gifted his collection to the university, enabling
the Ashmolean museum to become the first University art collection in the
world. It was also Britain’s first public museum. 
2/The Fitzwilliam Museum by the University of Cambridge. This is also a highly established collection dating back to 1816. Gifted by Richard,
VII Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion to the university, the aim of this gift was
to enhance learning. It has been described as part of Britains “national
heritage.”
3/ The Courtauld Gallery by the Courtauld Institute of Art
This gallery is renowned for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist
paintings, and is located in the heart of London at the stunning Somerset
House.
4/ The Whitworth Art Gallery by the University of Manchester. This collection is of international significance, with a permanent collection of over 60,000 artworks. None of its permanent collection is permanently on
display, however many of their exhibitions show pieces from their permanent collection.
5/Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts by the University of East Anglia.
This collection is said to house some of “the most remarkable works of art assembled
in the UK.”

These collections are considered significant in the UK, and as a result, receive funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Some UK universities
with smaller, but interesting art collections include: The University of Brighton, the University of Stirling, the
University of Hertfordshir, Bowdoin College.

In the US, like most things, university commitment to art is bigger and better, with many colleges housing full museums for their art collections. 

Each college has various reasons for investing in art, the prime reasons being education, history, and wealth management. Some institutions use art on a more practical level. University of Virginia, for example, uses art to teach their medical students pattern recognition and visual analysis. Using art for medicine education is not uncommon either, with many other universities using art to teach their students about patient empathy. On a cultural level, many universities use their art collections to present their country’s heritage through art, using national artists and showing the best talent that their country has to offer. University of Stirling, for example, invests exclusively in Scottish art. 

Many  of these collections have generally started with a Vice Chancellor’s interest in art. They have encouraged art activity within the institution during their tenure, and the tradition has continued thereafter. This establishes a legacy and therefore a certain pressure on the university to upkeep its reputation as an institution that is dedicated to art and that is committed to supporting the artistic sector. 

Universities today must continue to recognize the importance of art when it comes to education, inspiration, and creativity within their establishments. At Uart, we believe that these unique art collections should not be limited to students, professors, and alumni of the university. We believe that art is made to be
shared. Art collections often reflect the values and personality of the institution to which it belongs, however this image is rarely diffused in the form of art. This is why Uart offers image hosting of university art collections; to present your university’s culture, heritage, and values and to share your art with the greater public. As well as this, Uart’s global map brings the world’s university art collections together for easy browsing, localisation, and the chance to show off your university’s very own digital portfolio.

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