Art Fund and campaigners criticise council as museums lose Arts Council support after Egyptian statue sale

By Ben Miller | 01 August 2014

Northampton Borough Council has defended the £14 million sale of an ancient statue at auction - a deal which has seen the Arts Council withdraw accreditation status from two of the town's museums

A photo of a small Egyptian statue
© Courtesy Northampton Borough Council
Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and Abington Park Museum will be excluded from a variety of Arts Council grants, funding and loan agreements following the controversial auction of its 4,500-year-old limestone Egyptian statue, Sekhemka, which raised £14 million at Christie’s.

In a statement, the town’s Borough Council pledged to spend its £8 million share of the proceeds – Lord Northampton will receive the remaining £6 million – on a “major extension” of the museum and art gallery as part of a new Cultural Quarter.

Officials say they are “continuing to talk” to the Arts Council about accreditation, having been removed from the scheme until at least April 2019.

"This money will allow us to realise our exciting plans for the future of the Museum Service,” said Councillor David Mackintosh, the Leader of Northampton Borough Council.

“Every penny is ring-fenced for the Museum Service and we will now make our museum redevelopment plans a reality."

The Save Sekhemka Action Group, which includes the Friends of the Museum and Art Gallery, issued a fierce rebuke following the sale last month.

“Councillor Mackintosh was explicitly warned that Museums Association accreditation was in severe danger were Sekhemka to be sold, and with it access to many significant funding streams to supply the £7-8 million which will still be required to build the still hypothetical museum extension, even with Sekhemka's cultural equivalent of  blood money,” read an angry response on their website.

“The only way for Northampton to begin to climb out of the reputational mire into which it has been dropped is for the Museum Service to be handed back to the professionals who know how to run it ethically and for the good of the Town.”

The Art Fund said it had provided 15 items and grants for five paintings, two busts, and four sculptures to the museum, but fully supported the Arts Council decision.

“While the sale may have partially addressed a short-term financial need, the £8 million raised is small compared with the potential loss of income from funding schemes for which the museum will now no longer be eligible,” they warned.

“Many objects in public collections are donated or bequeathed to museums by generous individuals; such gifts are predicated on museums being long-term, safe and trustworthy custodians of our shared cultural heritage.

“It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which we – as a body adding to the collections of museums – would fund a museum which has so little regard for the integrity of its collection.”

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