Artist's impression of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery extension

Northampton sale breaches code of ethics

Patrick Steel, 30.04.2014
MA ethics committee “cannot endorse” Sekhemka auction
The Museums Association’s (MA) ethics committee has urged Northampton Borough Council to rethink its sale of an ancient Egyptian statue.

The statue of Sekhemka is to go on auction at Christie’s in London on 10 July with an estimate of between £4m and £6m, and the council has announced that its share of proceeds from the sale would go towards a £14m extension of the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

But Nick Merriman, convenor of the MA's ethics committee, said: “The Museums Association notes the intention of Northampton Borough Council to sell the statue of Sekhemka to help pay for an extension to the art gallery and museum. We are glad that the council heeded our advice to slow down the process and undertake more consultation.

“However, the Museums Association's code of ethics provides for such a sale only as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored.

“We do not feel that the council has done this, and we would urge them to seek alternative sources of capital funding before undertaking the sale of such an important item with a long history of association with the borough.

“Without this, the Museums Association cannot endorse the sale.”

The statue was gifted to the people of Northampton in a deed of gift signed by Northampton’s town clerk and the 4th Marquis of Northampton in 1880. Spencer Compton, the 4th Marquis’s great-grandson and the current Lord Northampton, last year launched a legal challenge against the council’s proposals to sell.

But according to a report this week in The Art Newspaper, the sale was made possible after he agreed to split the proceeds of the sale, so 45% would go to Lord Northampton and 55% would go to the council. Neither Lord Northampton nor the council responded to attempts to put this to them.

Arts Council England (ACE) has warned that the sale could jeopardise Northampton Museum’s Accreditation status. Scott Furlong, the director of ACE’s Acquisitions, Exports, Loans, and Collections Unit, said: “We are very disappointed to hear that Northampton Museum is going ahead with plans to sell Sekhemka, the Egyptian statue, from its collection.

“It is of great importance that the public retain trust in museums to look after the collections held in their name. We are concerned that this trust may be undermined if disposals from public collections are seen to be driven by financial considerations.

“We have been very clear about all these concerns in our discussions with Northampton. As a result of this decision, we will be assessing Northampton Museum’s Accreditation status in the coming months.”

The council has stated it will also seek grant funding to support the extension project, which would prove difficult should it lose Accreditation status.