Members of the public are being asked whether it would be ‘ethical’ for another UK museum to buy an ancient Egyptian artefact sold by Northampton Borough Council in a poll.
The Museums Association has been highly critical of the council since it sold the Sekhemka statue last July, and barred its membership ‘for at least five years’ in October.
It says the authority’s decision to sell the 2,400 BC funerary monument for £15.8 million at auction and give half the proceeds to the Lord Northampton estate breached its code of conduct.
The borough council has always maintained the sale will help pay for major extensions to Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.
The Save Sekhemka Action Group announced last week that it would not raise funds to buy the item back from its as yet unknown new owner as “to do so would be to risk giving legitimacy to similar sales contemplated by other local authorities.”
The group called on the statue’s buyer - believed to be from Qatar - to gift the statue to a UK museum.
This week however, the Museums Association has started an online poll asking: “Would it be unethical for a UK museum to buy Sekhemka using public money? Or would such a purchase be justified if it meant the statue would stay in the UK on public display?”
The Government has deferred granting an export licence for the statue until July 29, but this may be extended until March 29, 2016, if a “serious intention” is made by an institution to raise the funds to buy it at the recommended price of £15.7m.
But Alistair Brown, the policy officer at the Museums Association (MA), said it would be difficult for a public organisation to fundraise to buy the object as it would be “cross-subsidising”.
The poll is due to run for a fortnight and comes in a week where the ethical question of selling Sekhemka reached an international audience.
The New York Times featured the ancient Egyptian statue as part of a feature entitled ‘Selling cultural treasures’.
In the article Eckart Kohne, of the German Museum Association, said of museums selling off artefacts: “They treat it like some kind of gold reserve.”