Northampton Borough Council has become only the fourth authority to be barred from Museum’s Association membership - after its decision to sell the ancient Sekhemka statue at auction.
The MA’s disciplinary board took the decision to ban the council’s membership for five years at a meeting today - having previously threatened to sanction the authority for the manner in which it disposed of the 4,500-year-old artefact.
The ethics committee found the council had not demonstrated that the sale of Sekhemka, a former display piece at the town’s museum and art gallery, was a ‘last resort’ in order to help fund a £14m re-development of the museum.
The artefact raised £15.8m at a sale at Christie’s auction house in London in July.
In addition the MA has rule that the council’s plan to share the proceeds of the sale with the current Marquis of Northampton, indicated that “legal title of the object was not resolved.”
Chairman of the MA’s ethics committee David Fleming, 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.
She said: “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.”
But a spokesperson for Northampton Borough Council has expressed surprise at the decision - claiming that the authority has already resigned from Museums Association membership.
The spokesperson said: “It is curious that the Museums’ Association is choosing to review our membership when we have already notified them that we have resigned from the Association and have no desire to ever re-join.
“Having reviewed the value of membership we could not see what benefit it offered to our museums.
“We are focusing on the future and our exciting plans to invest in improving both museums including the huge expansion of the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery rather than the odd bureaucracy of an organisation we no longer belong to.”