Former U.K. Chancellor George Osborne, Who Oversaw Steep Arts Funding Cuts, Will Be the British Museum’s New Chairman

George Osborne presided over austerity measures that slashed funding for Arts Council England by 30 percent.

Former Chancellor George Osborne was appointed chair of the British Museum. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The British Museum has named former U.K. chancellor George Osborne as its new chairman. Osborne, who was appointed in a unanimous vote by the board of trustees, will join the museum September 1 and formally take over the chairmanship from former Financial Times editor Richard Lambert on October 4.

Osborne was elected MP in 2001, becoming the youngest-ever Conservative member of the House of Commons at age 30. He served as the head of the U.K.’s treasury from 2010 to 2016, presiding over austerity measures that slashed arts funding for the Arts Council England by 30 percent.

Later in his governmental career, Osborne served as First Secretary of State under David Cameron from 2015 to 2016, before retiring from politics in 2017. He then became editor at the Evening Standard and took an advisory role at investment behemoth Blackrock, helmed by MoMA trustee Larry Fink. Osborne is currently a partner at the boutique investment firm Robey Warshaw, and the chair of Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

While in office, Osborne did oversee some good news for arts and culture. His 2015 spending review, which set up government spending from 2016 through 2020, included £150 million to “help the British Museum, the Science Museum, and V&A move their collections out of storage and on display.”

The government also pledged funds for the Rem Koolhaas-designed Factory Manchester art center and the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.

Grayson Perry's <i>Object in Foreground</I> (2016). Photo: ©Grayson Perry and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

Grayson Perry’s Object in Foreground (2016). Photo © Grayson Perry and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

Osborne was described as the “rare non-philistine in government” by his former advisor, Rohan Silva, and had works by artists Edward Lear and Grayson Perry in his office.

In a 2012 interview with the Guardian, Perry laughed uproariously at the suggestion that he was Osborne’s favorite artist, adding that he was “not a supporter of Mr. Osborne’s government.” (A 2016 work by Perry titled Object in Foreground takes the shape of a 27-foot-tall ceramic penis covered in images of bank notes, city workers, and politician’s faces, including a prominent portrait of Osborne.)

British Museum director Hartwig Fischer said in a statement that he was “very happy to welcome George Osborne” adding: “He understands the active role the British Museum is playing in the recovery of the country, creating opportunities for everyone to discover the collection as their own—onsite, through loans to their local museums and online.” 

But not everyone is pleased with the decision. Climate activists in the group Culture Unstained wrote on Twitter that the appointment “is completely out of touch,” and pointed to the tax cuts he gave to BP and other oil companies while making simultaneous cuts to the arts.

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