Arts Council England takes action against Northampton after controversial sale

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Egyptian sculpture sell off penalised by loss of museum Accreditation status

Sekhemka sculpture was sold at Christie’s in London last month for £15.8m (with buyer’s premium)

Arts Council England (ACE) has stripped the Accreditation status of the two museums managed by Northampton Borough Council, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and Abington Park Museum. The action by ACE’s Accreditation panel, announced today, 1 August, follows the local authority’s controversial sale at auction of an ancient Egyptian statue drawn from its local museum’s collection.

“The panel found that the process leading up to the sale of the Sekhemka [statue] and the sale itself by Northampton Borough Council were in contravention of the Accreditation Standard,” says ACE in a statement.

Scott Furlong, the director of ACE’s acquisitions, exports and loans unit, says: “It is always hugely regrettable when we have to exclude a museum from the Accreditation scheme. However, 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.” The museums will be excluded from the scheme for a minimum of five years.

The 4,500-year-old, painted limestone Sekhemka sculpture was sold to a buyer on the phone in a packed saleroom at Christie’s in London on 10 July for £15.8m (with buyer’s premium). According to the BBC, a private collector bought the sculpture.

Northampton Borough Council has said that its share of the proceeds will go towards a £14m extension of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. But the consequences of losing Accreditation could be that Northampton finds itself ineligible for a range of grants from ACE and other funders. The disposal has also been condemned by the UK Museums Association, which is reviewing Northampton Museum and Art Gallery’s membership.

David Mackintosh, the leader of Northampton Borough Council, says that the council followed the correct process in making the sale, and is considering an appeal. “It is disappointing that Arts Council England is removing Accreditation from Northampton Museum, and also puzzling at a time when we are possibly one of the only local authorities in the country with plans for a multi-million pound investment in their museum service,” he says.

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