The Ethics of Disposal

The Museums Association's position on disposal
The Museums Association leads thinking on disposal of museum collections.

We believe that museums need to ensure their collections are well managed, actively used and sustainable.

Our ethical advice on disposal allows for and encourages museums to take a more active approach to appropriate disposal, whilst ensuring safeguards are in place to protect collections and public trust in museums.

Although disposing of items is not without risk, there can be significant benefits if the process is well managed.

Better care and curation for an item or improving public access and use are just some of them.

A strong framework to support responsible disposal exists within the UK with ethical advice in the Museums Association Code of Ethics for Museums and from its ethics committee, supported by practical advice in the disposal toolkit.

Considering financially-motivated disposal

If your museum is considering financially motivated disposal, you should first look at our disposal toolkit and additional guidelines on financially motivated disposal to help you through the decision making and processes necessary to sell collections ethically.

We encourage museums considering financially motivated disposal to seek our confidential advice at an early stage in order that we can help you shape the proposal so that it will comply with the code of ethics.

To formally respond to any proposal we will need some written background information - complete and return our first contact form.

We may then ask you to complete a compliance report.

The Museums Association evaluates proposed financially motivated disposals carefully and it is likely to take several months to provide a definitive opinion, particularly as it is usually necessary to hold a meeting of the Museums Association Ethics Committee to discuss the proposal.

Links and downloads

Museums Association Code of Ethics

Code of Ethics: addition guidance (word)


Disposal toolkit (pdf)

Additional guidance on financially motivated disposal (pdf)

First contact form (word)

Compliance report (word)

Guidelines on curatorially motivated disposal (pdf)


Find an object

Case studies

Examples of the formal advice that the Museums Association has given to museums about proposals for financially motivated disposal can be found here:

Bolton Council (word)

Royal Cornwall Museum (pdf)

Southampton City Council (pdf)
 
Northampton Borough Council (word)


Note that if sale is an incidental final outcome of a curatorially-motivated disposal process then this is generally uncontroversial, especially if the item has been previously offered free of charge to other museums and the disposal toolkit has been closely followed.

Contact

If you are unsure about a proposed disposal we urge you to contact us for confidential advice at an early stage, especially in difficult areas where practice is evolving, such as proposed sale of collections.

In the first instance please contact Alistair Brown, the MA's policy officer.

(e) alistair@museumsassociation.org 
(t) 020 7566 7860