Northampton Museums Service has withdrawn from Museums Association due to the sale of an Egyptian statue (Geraldine Kendall, "MA bars Northampton Museums Service for minimum of five years", MA 1 October 2014).
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 monetized 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.”This is a major setback for Northampton's plans to develop their museum service.