Long sleep over Ian and Roslin Goonetileke bequest to Peradeniya University


In view of the long article that appeared in the Ravaya by Mr. Victor Ivan in July 14, 2017, I wish to present the following information to the public regarding the Ian and Roslin Goonetileke bequest to the University of Peradeniya. I attach extracts from a letter to the new Vice Chancellor dated February 2016 stating briefly the history of the bequest and the present situation.

I would also like to add that the fund to build the museum was inaugurated in 2006 and up to now has managed only on the donations from members of the Alumni Associations of the University of Peradeniya – a sum total of around Rs. 5 million. In the past 20 years or so, no funds at all have been given by the university or the governments for this museum (that the University undertook to build.) Perhaps the air-conditioning of the area where the paintings are stored is the only exception.

We understand that the World Bank is giving a fund of 100 million dollars to improve education in the Universities. (See editorial in the Island of 16th May 2017.) We would hope that some part of these funds will be channeled into building the long promised museum for the University of Peradeniya which already has an extraordinarily valuable collection waiting to be displayed. Until such a space is built neither students not the general public will have access to this stunning collection. That is a crying shame.

Ranjini Obeyesekere


20th February 2016

The Vice Chancellor,University of Peradeniya.

Dear Prof. Dissanayake

My husband and I were very close friends of Ian and Roslin Goonetileke when we all lived on campus for many years. They spent most of their lives at Peradeniya and left their stunning collection of Art, Books, and Artifacts, to the University of Peradeniya. The university was to build a long awaited museum to display the bequest. I knew of their decision to make the gift so when I was invited to be a Trustee of the Ian and Roslin Goonetileke Memorial Museum Project I gladly agreed. It is now nearly 20 years since the project was first mooted and I wonder if we will live to see its completion.

Here is a brief review. It is possible that with the numerous changes in the office of Vice Chancellor and the University administration, much of this information is not readily available. I happen to have copies of most of these documents.

1996: an MOU was signed by Mr. and Mrs. Goonetileke making this bequest to the University of Peradeniya for the establishment of a museum on campus.

1997: a formal ceremony was held at the University, a portrait of H.A.I Goonetileke was hung in the library, and the bequest was announced by the Vice Chancellor Prof. Madduma Bandara.

2003 : After the death of both Roslin and Ian Goonetileke, the collection was handed over to the University by Prof. Ashley Halpe, Prof. K.N.O. Dharmadasa, the University Librarian and Tissa Jayatilleke. The university decided to temporarily house the collection in the library for security.

2005: The University Council appointed a Board of Trustees to oversee the project. I was invited to be on the Board

2006: The Alumni Association of Peradeniya together with the then Vice Chancellor Prof. Kapila Goonesekere organized a fund raising event for the building of the Ian and Roslin Goonetileke Memorial Art Gallery and Museum. Money was collected as donations big and small came in and was deposited with the University. A site was chosen, Architect Ashley de Vos prepared a set of drawings for the building and the University Engineering Design Consultancy Centre was directed to handle the technical aspects of the project.

The Vice Chancellor changed and nothing further happened.

In 2008, in a possible attempt to get international funding I spoke to Prof. Charles Hallisey of Harvard University who thought we might be able to arrange an exhibition there and get both publicity and funding. He was visiting and wished to see the collection. I took him to where they were stored and we were both shocked at the condition of the paintings. I then wrote to the Dean Arts drawing attention to this matter.

The next V.C .was not interested in building a museum on campus to house the collection, but said we could have a room in the new convention centre he was proposing to build at Dangolla. The Board and the AAUP that had raised the funds were not happy with this turn of events.

The convention centre never happened.

2009:Prof. Abeykoon came as the new Vice Chancellor. He appreciated the need for a University museum, was very supportive and interested in the project. The Board of Trustees decided to ask the University to hire an expert to check, catalogue, do conservation work on the paintings and reframe any damaged ones. Mr. Asoka Colombage recommended by Prof Jagath Wirasinghe in charge of conservation at the Post Graduate Institute of Archeology was given the tender and completed the work.

In Professor Abeykoon’s time as V.C. he had the basement room air-conditioned. We got a record of all the paintings in the collection, listed, numbered, photographed, and put on a web site. Plans were completed and work was to start on the first module.

2013: Another Vice Chancellor took over. The Deputy V.C was enthusiastic and construction work on the building was started. The last meeting of the Board of Trustees I attended was in December 2013 and we had scheduled the next meeting for January 2014 when work on the first module would be completed we were told.

With elections and other important happenings I suppose the museum matter was put off. No meeting of the board of Trustees was called between December 2013 and 2016.

2016: In the letter to the new Vice Chancellor, Prof. Upul Dissanayake we called for a

meeting of the Trust Board requesting also the following information:

a. Present status of the museum Fund. Initial deposit by the Alumni Association and subsequent years of interest accumulation.

b. Costs incurred by the university Trust Fund in the conservation work in 2010.

c. Present condition of the paintings. Can they please be checked against the catalogue list,

d. Cost for the building to date. How much more needed for completion.

Signed (at that time) by

Ranjini Obeyesekere; Prof. Ashley Halpe; Professor K.N. O.Dharmadasa

Tissa Jayatilleke]

2016:—Since 2016 several meetings of the Trust Board were held and a fresh attempt to raise funds for the museum was mooted as part of the Diamond jubilee celebrations this year.

We would strongly urge that the government channel a part of the World Bank funds for building the Peradeniya University museum, a much-needed aid to University education and to the General Public of Kandy. It is the Diamond Jubilee year of the University of Peradeniya and would be a fitting gesture and cause for celebration.

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