MA urges Northampton to rethink statue sale

Patrick Steel, 01.07.2014
Sale risks loss of Accreditation and MA membership
The Museums Association (MA) has urged Northampton Borough Council to rethink its sale of an ancient Egyptian statue from the collection of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

The statue of Sekhemka is to go on auction at Christie’s in London on 10 July with an estimate of between £4m and £6m. The council has announced that it will share the proceeds with Lord Northampton, whose ancestors donated the statue to the museum. The council has said its share of proceeds from the sale will go towards a £14m extension of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

David Fleming, chairman of the MA's ethics committee, said: “We do appreciate the huge financial pressure that many local authority museums are under at the present time, but the MA's code of ethics provides for such a sale only as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored.

“At a time when public finances are pressured it is all the more important that museum authorities behave in an ethical fashion in order to safeguard the long-term public interest.

“We would urge the council to seek alternative sources of capital funding before undertaking the sale of such an important item with a long history of association with the borough. Without this, the MA cannot endorse the sale.”

Fleming added that if the council went ahead with the sale the MA could review the museum service’s membership.

Arts Council England (ACE) has said that the sale could jeopardise Northampton Museum’s Accreditation status. The MA also warned that the council may face difficulties should it seek grant funding to support the extension project if it loses Accreditation.

Links

MA statement on the sale of the statue of Sekhemka (word)


Comments

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Anonymous
MA Member
09.07.2014, 11:49
Surely once capital projects are prioritised above collections museums risk losing focus, their ethical role as champions of collective memories - global and local - and indeed put at risk the very resources that provide their raison d'etre. Otherwise museums are at risk of being primarily community and visitor centres open to the present-centred whims and fancies (and fantasies) of the political class. The Egyptians are right to be enraged.
We in the museum profession present mixed messages to our public. Prepared to compromise our soul for investment in short term futures at the cost of truly concentrating on and celebrating the past for present and future generations. HLF has led the agenda with our supine compliance. What next?
Anonymous
MA Member
09.07.2014, 11:49
Surely once capital projects are prioritised above collections museums risk losing focus, their ethical role as champions of collective memories - global and local - and indeed put at risk the very resources that provide their raison d'etre. Otherwise museums are at risk of being primarily community and visitor centres open to the present-centred whims and fancies (and fantasies) of the political class. The Egyptians are right to be enraged.
We in the museum profession present mixed messages to our public. Prepared to compromise our soul for investment in short term futures at the cost of truly concentrating on and celebrating the past for present and future generations. HLF has led the agenda with our supine compliance. What next?
Anonymous
MA Member
07.07.2014, 13:00
One would have thought that after the Sevso Treasure business, Lord Northampton would have steered clear of another controversial sale like this. A shame that he has gone for this approach when so many seemed to think he would be the hero of the hour when he got involved.
03.07.2014, 16:24
Although this will set the cat amongst the pigeons I wonder what viable alternative funding there could be, apart from cancelling their capital project? Also perhaps they feel the reputational risk and risk of losing accreditation is not significant.
Anonymous
MA Member
03.07.2014, 09:41
My understanding is that Lord Northampton threatened to take back the statue if he did not get a share. Therefore if they did not agree to split any proceeds he would've sued to take it back and then sold it , so 100% of the sale would've gone to him. Make of that what you will - I know what I think!
02.07.2014, 19:10
Sadly this is not the first time that a local museum has been embroiled in the controversial case of selling important parts of their collections. I would cite the recent case of a Croydon Council selling parts of its Riesco Collection, which incidentally did not raise anywhere approaching the anticipated amount.
One way to avoid such incidents occurring in the future would be for bequests and donations to be subject to a clause stating that all proceeds generated from any future sales would revert in full to the descendants of the original benefactor. Thus negating any financial gain to the council or institution.
Anonymous
MA Member
02.07.2014, 14:17
Why is Lord Northampton getting a share in the sale? Was there some specific clause or condition to the original donation, or has someone forgotten the definition of the word 'donated'? Is the share in the sale price to ensure permission is given to sell?

We are all cash strapped, and many of us have lost colleagues and resources, and having worked for a long period in local government I know the harsh realities council officers and local councillors are having to face, but selling objects is one thing, selling out your ethics quite another - I always feel for the museum staff in these situations force to see arbitrary decisions by councillors sometimes carried out with little consultation or consideration. I hope more Councils see that selling collections is often counter-productive - why sell collections to fund building projects to...promote collections? Perhaps I have an overly rosy view of what museums are and how we are more than just about costing money and have both a tangible and intangible role in the community.