MA cautions Hastings against financially-motivated disposal

Patrick Steel, 17.09.2018
Council discusses sale of a feathered Hawaiian ceremonial cloak
The Museums Association (MA) has cautioned Hastings Borough Council against financially-motivated disposal after councillors discussed the sale of a feathered Hawaiian ceremonial cloak, part of the Hastings Museum’s collections.

The minutes of the Overview and Scrutiny Group from 4 September state: “The group discussed an item of clothing that was being displayed in the Hastings Museum that was a traditional garb from Hawaii.

“They discussed perhaps selling this piece of clothing on, to bring money back to the council but the viability of this, and the possibility of this, was something to be discussed in the future.”

According to the Hastings Observer, a recent insurance appraisal found that the cloak could be worth several million pounds, leading council leader Peter Chowney to tell the meeting: “I think it is worth looking at personally, I know that is kind of heretical for some.

“The council is desperately short of money and if this thing really is worth millions then it is worth looking at although I think there is a risk.”

Chowney reportedly pointed to Northampton Borough Council’s decision in 2014 to sell an Egyptian statue worth £16m from its collection, which led to Northampton Museum losing its Accredited status and its membership of the Museums Association. The sale funded a £6.7m refurbishment to the museum that began earlier this month.

“I am not saying that we are going to sell the cloak, or anything else, but we need to consider all options,” Chowney told the MA.

“Hastings Council is facing a £3m annual gap in in a net budget of £14m, despite making huge savings over the past few years and halving the numbers of staff. Massive cuts to the grants we used to receive from central government mean we are having to look at which non-statutory services we can continue to provide, and which will have to go. If we can save services, including the museum itself, by selling valuable items, then that's something we will regrettably have to consider.

“We remain committed to maintaining and developing our museum as a resource for the local community and an attraction for visitors, as long as we can afford to do that.”

“The MA would urge Hastings council to carefully consider before it makes any decision regarding selling items from its collection,” says Sharon Heal, the MA’s director. “The MA’s Code of Ethics clearly states that museums should treat collections as cultural and scientific assets, not financial assets.

“Financially-motivated disposal risks damaging the public reputation of the museum and the local authority. It is highly likely that if a sale from the collection went ahead that was deemed to be unethical it would be frowned upon by funders and could mean that the council is cut off from future funding opportunities from a range of sources.

“The item in question is of local, national and international significance and it will be a loss for current and future generations if it is sold from the collection to meet a shortfall in council funding.

“While the MA recognises the difficult financial position that many local authorities find themselves in, these objects can only be sold once, and when they are gone they are gone forever.”


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22.09.2018, 22:28
So Mr Chowney flogs off this Hawaiian cloak, which gets Hastings Council through the 2018-19 financial year and then what?

It would be interesting to know the provenance of this item. It could be an object with an important link to the history of the town, perhaps it is an object that is well loved by generations of visitors to the museum or perhaps it's an item with a particularly unsavoury backstory from which Hastings Council now wishes to benefit financially in the short term. Making money out of the destruction of other peoples' cultures - another blow for Global Britain.

The desire to involve insurance in museum collections is a real curse as it seriously undermines all our efforts to focus on why museum collections are so wonderful and instead our heritage (or even other people's) is treated as an asset to be bought and sold.