MA updates its Disposal Toolkit

Association offers explicit guidance on financially motivated disposal. By Patrick Steel
Patrick Steel
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The Museums Association (MA) has published a new version of its Disposal Toolkit that includes an appendix offering additional guidance on financially motivated disposal.

It is the first time since the MA voted to change its code of ethics in 2007 to allow financially motivated disposal in “exceptional circumstances” that it has set out explicit guidance to museums on this subject.

The MA’s head of policy and communication, Maurice Davies, says every case has been different, so it was worth waiting to base the guidelines on experience rather than theory.

But their inclusion in the toolkit has caused concern that cash-strapped local authorities might regard it as a green light to sell artworks.

“Slippery slope”

Liz Goodall, chief executive of North Dorset District Council and a former director of Southampton Art Gallery, says she has concerns that the toolkit may be “the start of a slippery slope for councils”, as funding cuts are pressuring local authorities to close primary facilities, and the temptation to sell art works to raise capital is increasing.

Janet Ulph, professor of commercial law at the University of Leicester and one of the authors of the appendix, says the conditions of the MA’s code of ethics are still in place, but the appendix expands on them.

“The guidance is not designed to encourage people to commodify items,” she says, but concedes that there is a case for reaching out to councillors to encourage them to understand the value of heritage.

Scott Furlong, director of the acquisitions, exports, loans and collections unit at Arts Council England, says the additional guidelines will expose those looking to sell collections cynically or with little regard for the sector’s standards or their long-term responsibilities, and will alienate them from key funders and the public.

Davies says there are only two “live” cases of which the MA is currently aware – in Southampton and Northampton – as well as what he describes as “high-level kite flying” by councils in Bradford, Derby and Kirklees.

For now, the lights are still amber.

Committee rulings

Acceptable

  • Watts Gallery: two artworks
  • Royal Cornwall Museum: two artworks
  • Bolton City Council: 35 artworks
  • British Postal Museum: 191 sets of stamps
  • London Transport Museum: 300 original advertising posters

Unacceptable

  • Southampton City Council: two artworks
  • Northampton City Council: ancient Egyptian Sekhemka statue dating from 2400 BC
  • Croydon Council: 24 ceramic pieces The ethics committee has also given confidential formal advice to two other cases that have not progressed to sale, and informal advice to about 10 cases that have not been taken forward.
  • Southampton City Council’s sale of two artworks has been ruled unacceptable by the MA ethics committee



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