Letters - Museums Association

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Human remains – Manchester’s view Quinton Carroll (Museums Journal July 2007, p14) asked if the article written by Piotr Bienkowski …
Museums Association
Human remains - Manchester's view

Quinton Carroll (Museums Journal July 2007, p14) asked if the article written by Piotr Bienkowski about the Human Remains Advisory Service reflected the policy of the Manchester Museum. I find his question a puzzling one. It is certainly not our policy to criticise individual organisations. However, as a university museum, the Manchester Museum sees one of its fundamental roles as provoking debate and questioning established orthodoxy, as that is part of the ethos of a university.

The Manchester Museum's own human remains policy is that the views of scientists about the treatment of human remains - important though they are -- should not be the only ones taken into account. It is in this context that Bienkowski's comments should be taken.

Nick Merriman, director, Manchester Museum

The problems raised by disposal

Your article on the Estorick Collection (Museums Journal July 2007, p5) and its sale of a painting raises some interesting and important questions. We are not offering any comment on the specific case of the Estorick as we know nothing of the circumstances, but it appears to involve a dispute over whether long-term collection care needs can ever be a sufficient reason for selling part of the collection.

The current Museums Association (MA) guidelines on disposal say that any income generated through disposal should be put back into the collections, but what exactly can this include? The Institute of Conservation (Icon) certainly does not believe that 'collections' simply means 'more acquisitions'. Interestingly, the Estorick spokeswoman talks in terms of 'care of collections', while the trustee who resigned speaks of 'running costs', indicating two very different perspectives.

Intelligent collecting implies museums acting as stewards of their collections, and only acquiring what they can properly look after. If a museum acquires collections it cannot properly manage, then it is this acquisition, rather than the prospect of a sale, which should be the real focus of our ethical concerns.

In our evidence to the Commons Select Committee Enquiry into Care of Collections last year, we said: 'Icon believes that the traditional strong ethical concerns about disposal may not always lead to the best outcome for objects and collections. While there has been a strong ethical presupposition against disposal, there is no such presupposition against mere neglect. It is difficult to see how quiet decay in storage for lack of conservation funds can really be an ethically preferable alternative to managed disposal.'

Icon will continue to support the MA's review of the code of ethics on disposal in the hope that revised guidelines will help other institutions avoid finding themselves in this ethical 'dead end' which fails to meet the MA's aspirations for responsible collecting and sustainable collections, potentially tarnishing the reputations of all museum professionals involved in their care.

Simon Cane, chair, and Diane Gwilt, vice-chair, Icon, the Institute of Conservation, London

National museums and free entry

The furore over the now-departed shadow culture secretary Hugo Swire's remarks on national museums charging admission fees suggested this issue is now as much a part of the national consensus as the minimum wage and early morning toast. However, I can't help thinking the entire affair missed a wider and more interesting point.

The evidence of increased numbers and attendance by diverse social groups is plainly irrefutable. According to the latest figures, an extra 16 million children have visited museums since 1998 - the year free entry was introduced - and the number of visits from people from lower socio-economic groups rose to 6.5m in 2004/05. The statistics don't lie. Free entry to national museums works.

Our research suggests more can be done to raise awareness. Universal awareness of free admission to national museums has still not been achieved. Many potential visitors still cite price as a barrier to visiting national museums.

Why is this the case, and what can national museums do about it? The why is easy: potential visitors are least likely to regularly visit museums; parents paying for school trips presume some of the money is for entry; many people only hear about free entry when visiting a national museum and don't automatically assume the rest are free; national museums don't market themselves as a collective, reducing the chances of reinforcing their core appeal.

Perhaps national museums should start a campaign aimed at getting the free admission message across to all potential audiences. The impending tenth anniversary of the introduction of free entry offers a superb opportunity for national museums to band together and promote themselves as a national collective. Then perhaps we can all have our toast and contemplate a trip to the nearest free national treasure.

Nick How, head of tourism, QA Research, York

Setting the scene for Marbles return

For the students, scholars and tourists flooding through Athens this autumn a great spectacle awaits. They may witness up to 300 ancient artefacts travelling through the air via a conveyer belt of cranes from the top of the Acropolis hill, where the Parthenon still stands, down to their resting place in the New Acropolis Museum.

It is a brave and novel concept and one that has put Dimitris Pandermalis, president of the Organisation for the Erection of the New Acropolis Museum, in the limelight. Pandermalis has supervised, encouraged and secured the construction of the New Acropolis Museum, now in its final stages. It sets the scene for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, currently housed at the British Museum.

The ancient artefacts will be moved by three cranes placed 100 metres apart that will relay the sculptures between them, each taking the precious antiquities approximately 100 metres of the 400-metre journey. This 'aerial pass-the-parcel', as it was described by Peter Stothard in the Times Literary Supplement, will certainly be a testing time for the nerves, but also reminiscent of how the sculptures would originally have been mounted on the Acropolis - with the added assistance of machinery and technology. All that remains is the longest journey of all, across land and sea. Perhaps moving antiquities down a hill is a piece of cake in comparison.

Sophia Westcott, London

Costs and credits

I noticed in the May 2007 issue of Museums Journal that you seem to have dropped the valuable project data boxes in your museum reviews. I am very shocked to see this, as they were an useful guide to the cost of individual exhibitions and museums, helping to set them in a financial context.

Even more importantly, they identified the designers involved in the production, who are primarily due the credit or otherwise for many of the features mentioned in the reviews. It is a major retrograde step to delete this valuable information, as designers are frequently denied much of the credit they are due in museum circles, apparently for snobbish academic reasons.

I hope this is not a further example of the devaluation of the important
contribution made by designers to the success of modern museums. Please inform us whether this is merely a temporary blip, or a deliberate change of policy by Museums Journal.

Richard McConnell, former senior lecturer in exhibition and museum design, University of Lincoln

(Editor's note: project data boxes appeared in the May 2007 issue and we will continue to include them with all reviews.)

Prague diorama: still very much here

I am writing to you concerning Jo Mattingly's letter on the diorama in Prague's Lipany Pavilion (Museums Journal April 2007, p12). I am pleased to inform you that the diorama, which you wrote about, is open to the public. During the 2002 flood it had been damaged, but it was restored in 2004.

The diorama was made by the Czech painter Ludek Marod in 1898. He, with five assistants, created this sizeable work (11 x 95 m) in 120 days.

Pavel Dousa, Centre for Presentation of Cultural Heritage, National Museum Prague, Czech Republic

Unjust criticism

We were dismayed to read Stuart Burch's review of our Museums and Galleries Month event (Museums Journal July 2007, p13). While giving himself authority as a lecturer in heritage studies, he went on to include a number of inaccuracies, including: some participants were invited as they recorded their experiences of working in the building for an exhibition; places were not limited and no one was turned away; all visitors were told about the nature of the tour and building when booking; the film screening was fully booked; and our website is updated fortnightly.

The fact is anyone can be a reviewer, but if you are to do so in a professional journal, you need to be at least accurate in your comments.

Tim Desmond, chief executive, NCCL Galleries of Justice, Nottingham

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