MA takes first steps to discipline Bury council - Museums Association

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MA takes first steps to discipline Bury council

The Museums Association started formal disciplinary measures against Bury council last month after the local authority stood by its intention …
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Sharon Heal
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The Museums Association started formal disciplinary measures against Bury council last month after the local authority stood by its intention to sell an artwork from its collection.

Speaking at the Museums Association's (MA) annual conference, Charles Saumarez Smith, the president of the MA and the director of the National Gallery, condemned Bury council's decision to sell A Riverbank by Lowry as 'arbitrary cultural vandalism'.

He said the sale, simply to plug a deficit in the council's finances, breaks the public's trust in museums. 'I fear that it will open the floodgates to all sorts of gratuitous and arbitrary sales, motivated by greed rather than responsibility,' he added.

The council defended its decision saying that the capital raised by the sale of the painting will secure the future of council services that would have otherwise faced closure. The council currently has a £10m shortfall and it is hoped that the sale will raise £750,000.

Wayne Campbell, the leader of the council, said he was 'devastated' by the decision to sell but the alternatives, such as redundancies, were equally unpalatable. The council said it had tried to keep the painting in the public domain.

But a source in the sector said there hadn't been a determined effort to keep the painting in a public collection and that the Lowry was picked for sale because it was the most valuable item that was not part of a bequest or subject to any legal restrictions.

If the council is found guilty of breaking the MA's code of ethics it could become only the second organisation to be expelled from the MA since its foundation in 1889 (Derbyshire County Council was expelled from the MA in 1991 for similar reasons). The code says museums should refuse to undertake disposal primarily for financial reasons. But Bury council has indicated to the MA that it will not take part in disciplinary procedures.

Mark Taylor, the director of the MA, told Museums Journal that the MA would also be calling for the museum to be stripped of its registered status and barred from receiving lottery and other public funding.

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), which runs the accreditation scheme (formerly the registration scheme), said that selling the painting to raise revenue would put the museum service in breach of its rules.

In a letter to Bury council, Chris Batt, the chief executive of the MLA, said that it was in danger of losing its registered status . 'The council may find its decision to dispose of the painting for short-term financial gain creates longer-term financial difficulties for Bury's cultural organisations, to the detriment of those organisations and the borough's residents.'

Sharon Heal

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