I quoted Nick Merriman in my previous blog on deaccessioning, as he has been the leading UK advocate for museums actively grasping the nettle of deaccessioning as part of the process of good collection management. Diane Lees, the director general of the Imperial War Museum in London, writing in the latest UK Museums Journal, postulates that in these difficult financial times, we should ensure that museums should operate as efficiently as possible, and that includes deaccessioning. In her words, “we should hang our heads in shame at the amount of public money going on storing domestic rubbish”.
Tough words, but returning to Merriman, there has been an interesting process going on, of which he, as chair of the MA Ethics committee, has been at the centre. In summary Southampton City Art Gallery plans to sell various artworks to fund a new museum called the Sea City Museum, and this has been referred to the Ethics committee. The committee has weighed up the potential benefit of the development of the new museum against the potential damage to public confidence in museums. The Code of Ethics is clear that museums should refuse to undertake disposal principally for financial reasons except in exceptional circumstances.
The question is ‘are these exceptional circumstances’? From the evidence they have looked at, the committee has not been convinced there are exceptional circumstances YET, i.e. the fund raising for the new museum has only just begun, and potential sources not exhausted.
It’s quite a cute way out of the dilemma. They have not said yes or no, and left the door open for the Gallery to come back to the committee for a further judgment down the track. But it once again has highlighted what a vexed area for museums deaccessioning is.
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