British Museums Lose Accreditation Over Egyptian Statue Sale

The Sekhemka limestone, recently sold by the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. Photo: Christie's.

The Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and the Abington Park Museum are both being excluded from the UK’s Accreditation Scheme for museums by the Arts Council, reports the BBC. The decision to sanction the museums comes after the Northampton Borough Council, which runs both institutions, sold the Sekhemka limestone statue, an ancient Egyptian artifact, at Christie’s last month.

As reported by artnet News, the local community opposed the sale of the 4,000-year-old statue, organizing to form the Save Sekhemka Action Group. They have since dubbed the auction day “the darkest cultural day in [Northampton’s] history.” The auction was also condemned by Egyptian ambassador Ahsraf Elkholy, who called it “an abuse to the Egyptian archaeology.”

The statue fetched an astonishing sum just under £16 million (over $26 million), well above the pre-sale estimate of £4–6 million ($6.7–10.1 million). It was billed as the most important Egyptian artifact ever to hit the market.

With the proceeds of the auction, the museum should be well positioned to build its planned £14 million extension. However, the loss of accreditation status renders the museum ineligible to receive grants and other funding for the art until at least 2019.

The Arts Council does not take the decision to withdraw accreditation lightly, with its director of acquisitions, Scott Furlong, saying in a statement that such a decision is “always hugely regrettable.” On the other hand, he added, “it is equally important that we are robust in upholding the standards and principles which underpin the scheme and are shared by the vast majority of museums.”

“It is of great importance that the public retain their trust in museums to look after the collections held in their name,” Furlong added. “If disposals from public collections are seen to be driven by financial considerations and in breach of our professional standards and ethical code,” such trust could be seriously undermined.

Northampton Borough Council leader David Mackintosh told the BBC that the loss of accreditation was “disappointing” and “puzzling.”

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