The statue of Sekhemka fetched £15.8m at auction. Image: Christie's

ACE strips Northampton Museums Service of Accreditation

Geraldine Kendall, 01.08.2014
Decision follows council's controversial sale of Sekhemka statue
Arts Council England (ACE) announced today that it has stripped Northampton Museums Service of Accreditation following the disposal of the ancient Egyptian statue Sekhemka.

Northampton Borough Council controversially sold the statue for £15.8m at auction last month and will take home £8m of the proceeds. The remaining share will go to Lord Northampton, whose ancestors donated the statue to the museum.
Following a hearing last week, the arts council’s Accreditation panel found that the process leading up to the sale and the sale itself were in contravention of the Accreditation standard.

In a statement today, the arts council said: “As a result of this non-compliance the two museums managed by Northampton Borough Council, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and Abington Park Museum, have been removed from the Accreditation scheme, effective as of 1 August 2014, and excluded from future participation for a minimum period of five years, until at least August 2019.”

Scott Furlong, the director of the arts council’s acquisitions, exports and loans unit, said: “It is always hugely regrettable when we have to exclude a museum from the Accreditation scheme. However, it is equally important that we are robust in upholding the standards and principles which underpin the scheme and are shared by the vast majority of museums.

“I am confident that the museums sector and wider community will share our dismay at the way this sale has been conducted and support the decision to remove Northampton Museums Service from the scheme.”

Furlong added that the disposal and others like it created “a very real risk” that public trust in museums, particularly that of potential donors and funders, could be undermined.

Peter Knott, the director of the arts council’s midlands office, said: “We take the responsibility of long-term stewardship of museum collections very seriously and it is clear that the sale may have negative consequences for the authority.”

The loss of Accreditation could affect the museum service’s ability to apply for grant funding in future.

Council leader David Mackintosh said: “It is disappointing that [ACE] is removing the Accreditation from Northampton Museums Service and also puzzling at a time when we are possibly one of the only local authorities in the country with plans for a multimillion pound investment in their museum service.

“However, we are confident that with the more than £8m we have from the sale of Sekhemka, we will be able to attract funding from elsewhere for our extension so there will be absolutely no reduction in our current cultural offer.”

Mackintosh added that the council may appeal the panel’s decision and is seeking legal advice.

Northampton Museums Service’s membership of the Museums Association (MA) may also be reviewed following the sale.

The MA's president David Anderson said he welcomed the arts council's decision. He said: "I feel the council made a major mistake in selling the sculpture and it is important that they and others understand that there are serious consequences for any local authority that acts in this way."


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MA Member
08.08.2014, 15:12
I do not condone what Northampton has done, but look at it this way. Those of you who pay Council Tax, did your bill go up more than 1.9% this year? No? Because the Government will not allow it unless your council holds a referendum. This effectively is a freeze on income for LAs but it is wrapped up in friendly words of the Localism Act 2011 such as "We want Council Tax payers to be able to... reduce their living expenses....get good value for money from their councils". Councils will concentrate resources on key services first and sadly that will often mean museums and galleries will lose out. This will likely mean more sales. and what will the MA and ACE do then? Suspend more councils? I think they will be more worried about feeding elderly people in care homes. The MA and ACE need to get more political - show that they are lobbying for better funding for heritage in local authority areas so that we do not have more examples like Northampton or Croydon..
07.08.2014, 12:10
Yes, losing Accreditation is sad and demoralises the remaining museum staff. But since the Northampton Borough Council bulldozed ALL museum staff objections to the sale as of NO importance they deserve to lose Accreditation.

Museum staff recommended ever since statue was taken off display in late 2010 that it should be lent long term to another major museum. Every time negotiations -oral and written - looked to reach a conclusion they were ended.

There were no consultations about the sale; there was questionnaire on the strategic importance of the museum collections with NBC helpfully declaring in this that Egyptology and Geology were at the bottom.

There were 41 replies with 26 in favour of NBC's view and 15 against. Based on this NBC decided that it was OK to sell. The resulting money was to be spent on the restoration of Delapre Abbey NOT the museums. This was announced in August 2012. Objections started at once led by the Friends of Northampton Museums & Art Gallery who warned against the loss of Accreditation and also questioned the OWNERSHIP of the statue.

None of FNMSG's polite petitions to NBC Cabinet worked, nor did the FNMAG offer of £8,000 for a secure display cabinet. The SaveSekhemka Action Group was formed to continue after FNMAG decided to give up.

We did research, we found out unpleasant facts and we kept the Museums Association informed at all times. ACE seemed to sit on the fence so our communications with them was scant. We tried to raise support from the major museums or at least get information on whether they had contacts with the Northampton museums about the statue - SILENCE!

We were glad when the Deed was published by the Museums Journal and hoped that this would stop the sale or stop any reputable auction house from accepting it. Not so, in order to save money NBC and Lord Northampton struck a deal over the money with 45% of total sale money going to Lord N and 55% going to NBC AFTER NBC paid the auction fees on the total sale money! Ethical, is it not ?

NBC claim that all the money will go to the museum extension - rubbish! These plans are OLD plans and very difficult to execute since it involves taking th Victorian prison block apart and starting again. IF it goes ahead it will contain nothing but shoes; the priceless ceramic and porcelain collections are packed up and store with, perhaps, 40 items on display, the Italian paintings are packed up and stored - I could go on. Losing Accreditation will not stop NBC from further sales, on the other hand keeping it would have given NBC carte Blanche to sell.

I can only hope that losing Accreditation will serve as a warning to other LA museums not to go down the same route. However, I fear that the national museum future is a great number of small independent trusts specialising in shoes, knitting machines, textiles etc all fighting for a decreasing number of grants while all the major museums flourish due to giant exhibitions and loan deals with the new museums springing up in Abu Dhabi and other Gulf states.

There is nothing to inspire an ordinary person in this scenario, gone will be the days when one popped in to one's local museum to view exhibitions and to ask about artefacts inherited from Granny. It is depressing.
MA Member
07.08.2014, 11:36
If you look again at the Deed of Gift published on the MA website (and assuming that it included the Sekhemka statue), you will see that the Egyptian collection was given to Northampton B.C. for the education of the public. If the Sekhemka statue had been given to the British Museum or the Ashmolean Museum it would have been retained to benefit not only people now but future generations.
This sale is the worst example which I have seen of commodification of a cultural object. It is a sale which is clearly in breach of the Code of Ethics. It is not even clear whether a business like attitude was taken to the sale. e.g. why did Lord Northampton obtain such a large share of the proceeds?
07.08.2014, 04:06
I don't think this museum deserved to be stripped of its accreditation. It sold the statue to better the museum; to better the majority of the collections. Also the statue was purchased by the family who originally donated it, it seems like they would not have wanted to buy it if they did not want to support the museum or saw the sale of their past ancestors gift as museum "noncompliance".
06.08.2014, 21:52
There is the issue of the items having been entrusted to the Museum in essence for the people. There is a growing creep into 'our' collections, in this austere times, to find things to sell to pay for the upkeep of the service. This route is being taken all too easily. It is dangerous Firstly, how would present day donors feel seeing this?! Who would to donate an item if it becomes clear that the promises being made may not be valid or kept in a hundred years. Secondly, s far as I concerned, these items have been given over 'under contract'. There should, in my eyes, be grounds for prosecution.
08.08.2014, 10:39
My husband and I will certainly not donate our small but good contemporary British art pottery collection to Northampton's museums, those items would not be safe n the future. Indeed noting in the collections of the museums is safe bar the shoes. How good will the visitor figures be if there is just shoes to look at ? A good local museum needs a MIX of things as well as a designated Collection.
Oliver Green
MA Member
06.08.2014, 20:04
ACE has done the right thing and acted quickly and decisively over this. The MA should now follow up with an expulsion rather than letting the council off the hook or allowing them to resign as Croydon decided to do before its sell off.
Going forward, it would be helpful if the value and importance of Accreditation could be strengthened. At present it may be useful for HLF applicants to show that they are Accredited but it is not an absolute requirement in applying for a grant. This rather weakens the case for those of us acting as mentors to museums working towards Accreditation. ACE should be working with the HLF to make this a joined-up partnership and raise the profile of the Accreditation scheme as a core value and key award for the sector.
06.08.2014, 23:59
An agreement between ACE, HLF and other major museum funders not to support museums that have been stripped of accreditation is long overdue but I don't think lack of accreditation should be a barrier to fledgling museums just starting out applying for HLF funding.
MA Member
07.08.2014, 09:18
While I agree with what you are both saying, I think there is a risk with local authority museums. The decision to sell items from the collection in Croydon was not taken by anyone in the museum, but came from higher up in the council. The museum staff did what they could to stop it and did not support the sale, but yet it is them who will suffer from the withdrawal of accreditation. Those who made the decision will not suffer at all, and therefore will not be prevented from making the same decisions again. The fact that these local authorities have made these decisions shows an utter lack of respect for their museums services, which makes me think they really wouldn't be bothered if they left their museums struggling to get funding from elsewhere and unable to survive. The people to suffer from cuts from the service are those in the community, who are surely ultimately the people local authority museums (and a lot of funders) set out to help.
07.08.2014, 17:02
Certainly a lot of decisions are being taken out of the hands of museum professionals in Local Authority Museums which is worrying. Only time will tell if the threat of loss of accreditation plus no funding from HLF etc will influence Local Authorities not to engage in this kind of sale. One problem is that it was guaranteed money from the sale where grant funding is speculative. Could ACE press government to make similar sales illegal? Might be the only way to stop this sort of thing?
MA Member
06.08.2014, 17:34
I can't help feeling that Northampton have only themselves to blame here. Sure, they're strapped for cash, and I'm sure they had their reasons for flogging off the statue, but they can't expect it to be condoned. What kind of message would that have given out? They were on very dodgy ground and must have factored that risk into their sale.
MA Member
06.08.2014, 17:06
How come the Museums Association's position is merely that it 'may' take action against Northampton? That seems a little weak, especially as it's around a month since the sale. The MA's response seems a rather insignificant contribution to the 'serious consequences' Northampton will apparently face.
David Fleming
MA Member
Director, National Museums Liverpool
12.08.2014, 15:33
Because a decision has yet to be reached, and that is intended to happen when the MA Board meets on 18 September. That's how democratically-elected governing bodies behave: they make big decisions at scheduled meetings. It will look "weak" if it is decided to take no action, I agree, but let's see what the decision is first, eh? The MA has already made it clear that it condemns Northampton Council's actions, but the sale has proceeded anyway, so there is nothing to be gained by trying to short-circuit the proper decision-making process; the important thing is for the MA to make a good call, not the speed at which it makes it.
MA Member
12.08.2014, 18:35
That's a bit defensive, David, perhaps recognising the MA is a bit slow off the mark. It's also a bit confusing as here it says the Ethics Committee will make the decision about disciplinary action, but you say the board will decide. And I seem to recall the MA's disciplinary system is in fact supposed to be independent of both the board and the Ethics Committee, so who is it to be? You seem keen on proper process, and taking enough time, so better make sure get the roles right and don't make the decision in the wrong way, eh?
MA Member
12.08.2014, 18:37
In case it helps I just found the disciplinary regulations here on this website