Museums Association signals change of direction on disposals - Museums Association

Museums Association signals change of direction on disposals

The Museums Association's (MA) plan to introduce a clause to its code of ethics that would allow financially motivated disposal in 'exceptional circumstances' as long as the money raised is reinvested in the museum's core collection, has met with opposition.
Patrick Steel
Tristram Besterman, a former convenor of the ethics committee who was involved in the drafting of much of the original code of ethics, expressed 'grave concern' over the proposed clause 6.11. He said: 'When are circumstances not exceptional? Everybody will claim exceptional circumstances. The MA will rue the day that it redrafted this part of the code. I hope it will re-think this one.'

John Stewart-Young, the project director of the McManus Galleries scheme in Dundee, also expressed concerns about the proposed changes: 'When you open this particular door you are taking away a solid, grounded foundation of principle. Common sense should prevail, but I am apprehensive that local authorities might be creative with the figures and dress them up as reinvested when they aren't.'

But Vanessa Trevelyan, the convenor of the MA's ethics committee, pointed out that some local authorities had sold items from their museum collections despite the existing, more hardline wording of the code of ethics. 'It is better to be pragmatic,' she said. 'We need to work with authorities to ensure that they are making the best decisions.'

Perdita Hunt, the director of the Watts Gallery in Surrey, which consulted the ethics committee last year about proposals to sell two paintings to raise cash to conserve the gallery's core collection, said: 'This new wording acknowledges the challenging position in which galleries such as the Watts can find themselves when trying to ensure a good and dynamic management of their core collection for the long-term. I hope this development will help those of us who face these difficult issues to arrive at the right decision.'

Caitlin Griffiths, the MA's adviser on professional issues who drafted the changes after guidance by the ethics committee, said: 'The decision to amend the element of the code that relates to financially motivated sale was not made lightly. But it was felt that a small degree of flexibility was needed.'

While the MA hopes all the changes will be voted through when the final draft is put to its Annual General Meeting at the MA Conference in October, those involved in the redrafting of the code are aware that disposal can elicit an emotional response.

In a previous consultation about adopting a less restrictive principle on disposal, one respondent said: 'Questioning this principle is like asking a Christian whether it is necessary to believe in Jesus.'

The MA's consultation on the changes ends on 15 June 2007. To take part, go to

Patrick Steel

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