Museum sector makes joint statement opposing unethical sale of collections

AIM joined a UK-wide group of museums funding, membership and development bodies released a joint statement today saying that they will not seek to work with museums whose governing bodies choose to sell objects from their collections in a manner that contravenes the long-established Accreditation Standard and Museum Association Code of Ethics.

The 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 The ten signatories include some of the largest funding bodies for museums, such as Arts Council England (ACE), the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund, as well as membership bodies and museum organisations from across the UK, including the Association of Independent Museums. The group states that the UK’s cultural heritage and reputation will be put at risk if museum governing bodies decide to sell items from their collections for financial gain. It is concerned that a growing number of organisations are considering selling items from their collections. The Museums Association’s 2014 Cuts Survey found that 1 in 10 museums were considering selling items from their collection. A sharp decrease in public funding for museums – particularly those under Local Authority control – has increased the pressure to find new sources of funding.

The statement follows the controversial sales of Chinese ceramics from the Museum of Croydon by Croydon Borough Council in 2013 and of the Sekhemka ancient Egyptian statue from Northampton Museum by Northampton Borough Council in July 2014. Both sales went ahead against the advice of Arts Council England and the Museums Association, and led to Croydon Council and Northampton Borough Council’s Museums losing Accreditation and their expulsion from the Museums Association.

Today’s statement sets out to clarify the shared approach that the ten organisations will take towards unethical sale from a museum collection and the likely consequences. It includes the potential loss of investment opportunities from major funding bodies, as well as the loss of Accreditation and membership of sector bodies. National and Arts Council England Major Partner Museums will also refuse to loan objects or enter into partnership with the museum in question, which would mean that museums will lose out on touring exhibitions and professional support.

All signatories of the statement stressed that they wanted to be clear about the impact unethical sale will have so that they can focus instead on working closely with museums and their governing bodies to ensure that the cultural, industrial and scientific heritage of the UK is celebrated, preserved and accessible now and for future generations.

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.

The Statement can be read in full here.

The signatories of the statement in full are:

  • Arts Council England
  • Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Museums Association
  • National Museums Directors Council
  • The Art Fund
  • Association of Independent Museums
  • Museums Galleries Scotland
  • Northern Ireland Museums Council
  • Welsh Museums Federation
  • The National Archives
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