The policy column

David Fleming, Issue 114/09, p17, 01.09.2014
Breaking the code of ethics benefits nobody
So Northampton Borough Council has sold what may have been the most important item in its museum collections – a 4,500-year-old Egyptian statue of an official named Sekhemka, which raised £15.8m at auction.

The council was advised by several bodies, including the Museums Association (MA), that the sale was in contravention of accepted ethical practice. The Egyptian government also objected.

Nothing illegal has occurred, but a coach and horses have been driven through the MA’s code of ethics, and trust in the council’s willingness to care for its museum collections in an ethical manner has been damaged.

Arts Council England withdrew the Accredited status of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and Abington Park Museum for a minimum of five years. This month the MA will decide what action to take.

We are confronted by a governing body that decides to sell off the best item in its collections to raise money, in this case, it is stated, to help finance a museum extension (although the original plan was to restore Delapré Abbey).

The sale has resulted in a reduction in the ability of the authority’s museums to attract lottery money, and probably other funding.

I sympathise with Northampton’s predicament, but cashing in part of its museum collection is extreme and unwise. Everyone loses – the public of Northampton, the city’s museums and the council itself, which has scored a spectacular own goal.

David Fleming is the director of National Museums Liverpool and the deputy president of the MA

Comments

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04.09.2014, 11:59
Finally a sensible word from David Fleming. However, so far nobody has deigned to comment or start a debate as per my previous comments re the future of our museums in the wake of this sell off: Do we in the UK wish to see just a small number of large museums/art galleries complemented by a great number of small specialist trusts run on a shoe string ?? We need to have this debate, we need to know how we relate to auction houses and the big buyers in the Middle and Far East ! Somebody please start talking about this!