The ancient Egyptian statue of Sekhemka was sold by Northampton Borough Council in 2014 in contravention of the Code of Ethics. Image: Christie's

Museum stakeholders join forces against unethical disposal

Nicola Sullivan, 27.03.2015
Sector bodies issue joint statement to protect collections at risk
A UK-wide group of museum sector bodies has released a joint statement saying they will seek not to work with museums whose governing bodies sell items from their collections in contravention of the Museums Association’s (MA) Code of Ethics and the Accreditation Standard.

The group is made up of 10 funding, membership and development bodies for museums, including the MA, the National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC), the Art Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Archives and the Association of Independent Museums.

Key policy-makers from each devolved nation are also represented, including Arts Council England (ACE), Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS), the Northern Ireland Museums Council and Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales.

The joint statement is the first of its kind from such a broad group of cultural organisations, and reflects the concern felt about the unethical targeting of cultural collections for sale.

It comes after a Collections at Risk summit convened by the MA in January in which representatives agreed to take a united stand against unauthorised disposals. The move was spurred on by the unethical sale of an Egyptian statue last year by Northampton Borough Council, which saw the city’s museum service stripped of its Accreditation and MA membership.

The statement outlines how the 10 signatories plan to respond to organisations that engage in unethical disposal, with most signatories reiterating that such organisations will be unable apply for funding programmes for which Accreditation is a criterion.

NMDC said it will also reconsider existing and future partnership arrangements, including object loans, with those bodies, while MGS will remove any such organisation with a Recognised collection from its Recognition Scheme.

The statement said: “Organisations that choose to act outside of the widely adopted standards for managing and caring for public collections will find that it has a direct impact on their relationships with development bodies and funders and the ability to access support."

“Our museums hold vast and diverse collections on behalf of the public,” said the MA’s director Sharon Heal. “They are a fantastic resource with the power to inspire, educate and connect communities. Some museums’ collections are currently threatened by trustees seeking to use collections as financial assets.

“Today’s statement from 10 organisations across the UK shows that the museums sector is determined to protect collections from unethical sale. We must not allow museum collections to fall victim to cuts.”

“We are increasingly concerned that the sale of public collections for financial gain will do great damage to the trust that the public and supporters feel for their museums,” said Scott Furlong, the director of ACE.

“That is why it is so important that we make this joint statement of support for the importance of managing our collections in an ethical and responsible way and are very clear about the consequences for those who choose not to do so.”


Joint statement on unethical disposal from museum collections (pdf)


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29.03.2015, 16:49
How much more helpful this official indignation would have been BEFORE the sale!