Sekhemka statue sale: Northampton Museum faces new sanctions

Ahram Online in London, Monday 29 Sep 2014

Northampton Museum is facing disciplinary action from the Museum Association for the sale of the ancient Egyptian Sekhemka statute

SSAG outside Christie
SSAG outside Christie's

The UK’s Northampton Museum could face new harsh sanctions for the sale of the ancient Egyptian Sekhemka statue. Sanctions include possible suspension of member status in the UK’s largest museum organisation, the UK Museum Association (MA). 

The Association will hold a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday to decide on the possible actions against the Northampton Borough Council (NBC) which sold the statue on 10 July

The 4,500-year-old, painted limestone statue was sold to a private buyer at Christie's in London for £15.8m (about LE183.6 million). 

The Museum Association has confirmed to Ahram Online that the meeting is being held in response to the outcry in the UK and Egypt which followed the sale. 

“A range of sanctions are available to us on such occasions, including barring membership,” Alistair Brown, the Museum Association’s policy officer told Ahram Online. 

Save Sekhemka Action Group welcomed the possible action as a “massive step”. 
The MA, founded in 1889, is an independent membership organisation representing museums and galleries in the UK and people who work for them. 

It has over 6,000 individual members and 600 institutional members. As a non-profit charity, it seeks to inform, represent and develop museums and people who work for them so that they may provide a better service to society and the public. 

The MA has condemned the sale as a violation of the museum’s code of ethics which only allows for such sales in the case of exceptional circumstances. 

According to the code of ethics, to be eligible to sell items, a museum would need to be able to demonstrate that they are in dire need of funding and have exhausted all other options. 

The museum has justified the sale of the statute on the grounds that it urgently needed the money to fund a £14m (approximately LE162.7) extension of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. 

The MA stated that the NBC has not demonstrated that the sale of Sekhemka is its last resort when it comes to its development plans for the museum. 

David Fleming, chairperson of the Museum Association’s ethics committee, said that “we do appreciate the huge financial pressure that many local authority museums are under at the present time, but the code of ethics provides for such a sale only as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored.” 

Arts Council England has earlier withdrawn the Northampton Museum’s access to funding after the sale of the statue, confirming it will follow the Museum Association’s decision on the issue. 

"We are genuinely concerned that some local authorities could sell parts of their collections to raise funds. This would be in contravention of the Museums Code of Ethics," Brown said 

"We also intend to hold a summit of other funders, including the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, later in the year," he added. 

"We already have a red list to protect heritage sites at risk. Now we will ask the summit members to create a similar list for important objects and collections at risk of being taken out of public ownership," Brown said. 

While considering it “a bit late,” Ruth Thomas the Vice President of the Save Sekhemka Action Group welcomed the authority’s disciplinary meeting on the Northampton Museum.

“This will send a strong message as the Northampton Museum will not be to share anything with other museums if its membership is withheld.” 

“It will be a shame to the museum,” she added.

Sekhemka statue
Sekhemka statue

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