In the Sainsbury Centre’s 40th year, David Sainsbury talks about his family’s extraordinary gift
Lord Sainsbury on his parent’s gift: the Sainsbury Centre
What was it like growing up with such an amazing collection of artworks around you every day?
It was a wonderful experience. Growing up in a house full of marvellous works of art is the best possible way to appreciate them and learn about them. The extraordinary thing looking back is that I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary.
Why was Norwich the choice for such an important collection?
The family business had strong connections with East Anglia and my youngest sister was an undergraduate at UEA. Also, an American friend of my father introduced him to Frank Thistlethwaite, the vicechancellor of the University, who was very enthusiastic about the collection.
Norman Foster was a relative unknown at the time he designed the Sainsbury Centre – how did he come to be chosen for the commission?
My father could have chosen a famous architect but typically he quietly went and looked at the work of a number of architects, and decided that Norman Foster was the most exciting one though he was largely unknown at the time. It turned out, of course, to be an inspired judgement.
How much involvement do you have with the Sainsbury Centre on a regular basis? Do you get much chance to visit?
Not as much as I would like. Because my charitable trust supports a large number of projects my time tends to be focused on new ones and those that are not working as well as
they should, rather than those which give me most pleasure.
As a philanthropist and former Labour minister, do you feel the state should play a bigger role in supporting the arts?
The arts is one of the few areas where I think the balance of public and private money is about right.
Are you pleased with the way the Sainsbury Centre has evolved over its four decades?
I think the centre is doing a brilliant job showing my parents’ collection and putting on outstanding exhibitions which relate to it.
Where do you see the Sainsbury Centre in 40 years’ time?
This is one of the few areas in public life where I don’t want to see significant changes. The centre was set up to display my parents’ timeless collection of world art objects, and I don’t see any great reasons for change. N scva.ac.uk
ABOVE: David Sainsbury, Baron Sainsbury of Turville LEFT:Lord Foster at The Sainsbury Centre, for the opening of his new exhibition in the Norman Foster Studio, with the gallery’s recently acquired bust of Lord Foster by sculptor John Davies FAR RIGHT:Lady Sainsbury amd Sir David Attenborough at the opening of the ceramics exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich