It’s time for the sector to embrace disposals - Museums Association

It’s time for the sector to embrace disposals

MA has convened a new working group on the issue
Profile image for Alistair Brown
Alistair Brown

Museums have traditionally focused on acquiring items and building collections, with the result that many are now victims of their own success. 

Most museum workers will recognise the problem of having too much stuff. These institutions have stores bulging with items that are unlikely ever to be put on display which, in some cases, is preventing us from building relevant and contemporary collections.

The problem is that getting rid of art and objects just isn’t as enticing as acquiring them. In addition, the process is often seen as being fraught with ethical difficulties. 

Even so, disposal is a vital part of museum work – and at the Museums Association (MA), we want to empower the sector to truly embrace it. 

This is why we have recently convened a new working group focused on revising the MA’s disposal toolkit. We will work with partners from across the sector over the coming year to look at how disposal can become a more accepted part of curatorial practice, while continuing to ensure that unethical, bad-faith sales from collections are avoided. 

There will be more consultation with the sector on this later in the year. In the meantime, we’re looking forward to taking the project forward.

Comments (1)

  1. Simon Stephens says:

    Posted on behalf of Crispin Paine:
    Shortly before I got my first museum job, the librarian-curator and a local dealer had swapped the museum’s ethnography collection for a mixture of social history items. Like many curators then, he was turning a Victorian ‘encyclopaedic’ museum into a local museum. Yet today that lost ethnography would be of great significance to its originating communities, and would also tell a local story about trade, imperialism and class.
    Fashions change in museums as everywhere else; each generation of museum workers has a different priority.
    Five unprovenanced wringers in a store are clearly candidates for thinning. But museum workers have always to keep in mind the needs of people today AND those of generations to come. That’s extremely difficult, but it’s our duty to try.
    I trust the members of the MA’s Disposal working group will constantly be asking themselves ‘how can we make sure that these things and all their information will be safe and available in a couple of centuries’ time?
    Yours faithfully,
    Crispin Paine

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