Statement about the Egyptian statue of Sekhemka

  • 11 July 2014

Art Fund statement in response to Northampton Borough Council’s sale of the unique Egyptian statue of Sekhemka.

The Art Fund supports careful collections management, which includes responsible deaccessioning, ideally with an item being freely transferred to another body so it can remain on public display. However, in line with the Museum Association’s Code of Ethics for museums, we remain strongly opposed to deaccessioning any item for financial reasons except in exceptional circumstances, where the funds will directly benefit the museum collection and only after all other options have been explored. 

This is not the case with the sale of Sekhemka and as such, having gone against the sector's ethical guidance, it risks being stripped of its accredited status. This is therefore a financially as well as morally harmful decision for Northampton Borough Council to take. Not only will they receive only 55% of the final hammer price of £15.8m, but Northampton Museum and Art Gallery will no longer be eligible to apply to us and other major funders for funding for acquisitions, capital projects (including the planned £14m extension), and artistic or educational programming.

We understand that local authority funding is extremely stretched and it is difficult to find budget for non-statutory areas, such as arts – meaning that hard decisions have to be made – but deaccessioning for financial reasons is a short-sighted fix that will not bring long term gain. Selling items from collections, as Northampton and Croydon have both done in recent months, does not just impact on one particular museum and its visitors; it reduces public trust and risks lessening donors’ desire to give items to museums for their long-term safe-keeping. 

There is increased interest and necessity for museums to work in partnership; we encourage museums to share what they have, to be more proactive in displaying collections that are not currently on public view, and to work together with other museums to acquire, develop and share works of art, so that the museum-going public can make the most of our truly rich and diverse national collection.