MA bars Northampton Museums Service for a minimum of five years

Geraldine Kendall, 01.10.2014
Council ruled to have breached code of ethics over Sekhemka sale
The Museums Association (MA) has barred Northampton Museums Service from membership for at least five years following a disciplinary hearing of the MA ethics committee today.

The disciplinary panel ruled that the service, which is run by Northampton Borough Council, had breached the MA’s Code of Ethics by selling the ancient Egyptian statue Sekhemka from the collection of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

The statue was sold at Christie’s in July for £15.8m and the council intends to share the proceeds with Lord Northampton, whose ancestors donated the statue to the museum. The council plans to use its share of the proceeds to fund a £14m extension of the museum.

The committee ruling found that the council had not demonstrated that the sale of Sekhemka was funding of last resort in relation to the development plans for the museum site. In addition, its plan to share the proceeds of the sale indicated that legal title of the object was not resolved.

David Fleming, the chairman of the MA's ethics committee, said: “We do appreciate the huge financial pressure that many local authority museums are under at the present time, but the MA's Code of Ethics provides for such a sale only as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored.

“At a time when public finances are pressured it is all the more important that museum authorities behave in an ethical fashion in order to safeguard the long-term public interest. Museums have a duty to hold their collections in trust for society. They should not treat their collections as assets to be monetised for short-term gain.”

Sharon Heal, the MA’s acting head of policy, said that the association had decided to bar the museums service from membership after careful consideration.

“Northampton Borough Council has clearly breached the MA’s Code of Ethics by selling the statues from its collection. Its actions are a clear violation of public trust at a local, national and international level.

“The MA is convening a summit of funding bodies later in the year to agree on a new range of sanctions and deterrents for governing bodies considering this course of action.”


The MA’s statement on Northampton in full (pdf)


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03.10.2014, 15:45
How I agree with Ruth Thomas! And how small minded and ridiculous Northampton Borough Council appear when they say that membership of the MA is of no use either now or in the future. Is this what the NBC's new Cultural Services Manager intends to be his Lode Star for the future of the museums ? How does he imagine that he will rebuild public trust when the museums have lost their professional status which will deprive them of outside funds and future donations ?
02.10.2014, 11:09
This is a sad day for Northampton Museum. Northampton Museum was one of the first accredited museums. Its curator (yes we did have professional curators not that long ago !) was a Fellow of the Museums Association – one of a very select group who served on the national committee of the MA. She represented the documentation and research aspect of museums at international level.
Northampton Museum was regarded as an example of how to curate and care for collections. What a sad decline there has been in such a short time! Now, the museum is known for something far less laudable. One of the most important artefacts in the collection has been sold off in the equivalent of a curatorial car boot sale. The Museums Association, of which not long ago Northampton Museum was a star member, has thrown the museum out on the grounds of its unethical behaviour and the good name of the museum has been besmirched and made the subject of gossip and disapproval in its professional world, if not beyond.
Northampton Museum used to be a professional organisation. There were nine professional members of staff in the 1990s (qualified with the post-graduate Diploma of the Museums’ Association and therefore able to attend conference, important professional meetings and network with others from accredited museums across the UK). We had experts in archaeology, social history, the arts and education. Now, that number has been reduced to ONE person. What does that tell you about the professional range and acumen available at the museum ?
Gradually, but effectively, the museum has had its links with its professional body shredded, curatorial expertise cut to the bone and now its collections are being raked through for pecuniary advantage. The future for Northampton Museum looks far from rosy.