The launch took place at the Wellcome Collection in London last week

Heal urges museum professionals to think about ethics

Lucy Alderson, 26.04.2016
MA's revised Cope of Ethics launched at event in London
The Museums Association (MA) introduced its revised Code of Ethics to museum professionals at an event at the Wellcome Collection in London last week.
The code has already been launched at events in Scotland and Wales as part of a series of roadshows to introduce the document to the sector.

The code, which was rewritten in order to broaden and reignite the debate around ethics and passed at the MA’s annual general meeting last year, outlines three main principles: public engagement and public benefit; stewardship of collections; and individual and institutional integrity.

In a speech on the importance of ethical museum practice, the MA’s director Sharon Heal urged attendees to revisit their values and “think about everyday ethics”.

Heal said that the code was a reaction to changes in society and the world since 2007, when it was last updated. “We need an up-to-date resource that chimes with the big questions about the role of museums in society,” she said.

Heal invited delegates to offer their contributions and developments to the code, saying its launch was only “the beginning of the journey”.

The code was debated at the event by a panel made up of Rowan Brown, the chairwoman of the MA Ethics Committee, Simon Chaplin, the director of culture and society at the Wellcome Trust, Maev Kennedy, a journalist at the Guardian, and Di Lees, the director of the Imperial War Museum.

Lees said that by having a clear set of consistently held views and values, museums could “maintain some integrity in an incredibly volatile world”.

Brown said the code would help to reconcile charitable objectives with commercial agendas.

Attendees agreed that a rejuvenated ethical debate was needed. Lucy Neal, an associate on the Happy Museum Project, said that the code “comes at the right time” after recent protests against the British Museum accepting sponsorship for the oil giant BP, which she said highlighted the need to discuss different views on museums.