Object on Icom's Red List for Syria. The revised code has provisions against illicitly traded cultural objects being accessioned by museums.

MA publishes revised draft Code of Ethics

Patrick Steel, 19.10.2015
Code will be voted on at the MA’s AGM in Birmingham
The Museums Association (MA) has published a draft of its revised Code of Ethics, the result of an 18-month consultation process during 2014-15 involving representatives from across the museum sector, funders, interest groups, members of the public and other stakeholders.

The draft includes new sections on financial support from commercial organisations and on repatriation requests, and represents the general consensus of the sector on the ethical standards that are expected of all museums and those who work in and with them.

MA members will vote on the code at the MA’s AGM at Birmingham in November. Members unable to come to Birmingham can nominate a proxy to vote for them.

Sharon Heal, the MA’s director, says: “The draft revised Code of Ethics represents a turning point for the sector. It puts public benefit and public engagement at the top of our ethical principles and signals a significant commitment to working in partnership with communities as well as caring for collections and acting with integrity.

“The draft is a result of a huge amount of consultation with people who work in and support the sector. We have spoken to hundreds of people and engaged stakeholders in all four nations of the UK. I am proud of the rigorous process of debate and listening that has informed the new code.

“I hope that going forward this will be a living, breathing document that is used to inform ethical decision-making in museums.”

Scott Furlong, the director of collections and cultural property at Arts Council England, says: “Museums and those who work in them are in a position of great trust.

“They are trusted to make responsible judgements about developing and protecting collections for the benefit of future generations, but also to make agile, sensitive and pragmatic decisions about how best to engage users today. This is not easy.

“The Code of Ethics has a vital role in helping each of us to navigate our responsibilities with confidence, knowing that our values and views are underpinned by a shared consensus about what it means to do the right thing.

“Museum ethics have developed over many years and will be familiar, but in this revision, they have been sharpened and focused so that each of us can use them on a daily basis. We must embrace them fully so that we continue to deserve this long-held public trust.”

Sarah Philp, the head of programmes at The Art Fund, says: “I welcome the MA’s revised Code of Ethics. The focus and clarity of this important document means that it will, I am sure, become a touchstone for museums and help us all as a sector to navigate through both the challenges and opportunities ahead.”

Steve Miller, the head of Norfolk Museums, says: “In these challenging and fast moving times, the Museums Association's Code of Ethics for museums and the MA's leadership in this vital arena has never been more important.”

Morag Macpherson, the cultural operations and development manager at Renfrewshire Leisure, said: "I think the complexity of the ethical landscape has been encapsulated really well by the revised draft Code of Ethics."

"It reflects the evolving role of museums, and provides clear and practical guidance to support museums in their decision making.

"The more focussed and streamlined format also supports museums in communicating their ethical responsibilities to stakeholders and their wider community. It feels like there is a good balance of support, guidance and direction, and that this code will actively be used to negotiate dilemmas by all involved in museums."

Tony Butler, the executive director of Derby Museums, said: "The new MA code of ethics are a timely recognition that museums exist in a dynamic and unstable world.

"The choices we make about our roles as stewards of material culture and sharers of knowledge, should be framed by a fair and equitable vision of the world. For museum people what is "out there" should be as important as what is "in here."

Links and downloads

Draft code of ethics (pdf)

MA Annual Report and voting at the AGM