The British Museum makes much of its commitment to loaning out artefacts (both in the UK & overseas) – but this always happens very much on their own terms. In many of the cases of disputed artefacts – the ones that people most want to see in their original locations, the museum rejects loans, because of the fact that they can’t guarantee the return.
In the past, Greece has offered to loan other artefacts of equal value to the Parthenon Marbles – a form of collateral, which ought to satisfy such worries, but the museum still won’t consider their requests for a long term (or for that matter any length of) loan of the sculptures.
If some of the Lewis Chessmen  can go back on a long term loan (a good starting point for perhaps more to join them one day), then why can’t the same happen to the Elgin Marbles?
British Museum vows to help regional collections through tough times
Loans of works to regional museums are part of vital support to struggling sector, says director Neil MacGregor
Mark Brown, arts correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 4 July 2012 14.46 BST
The British Museum has said that is loaning works to UK museums at an unprecedented level to help them weather waters that are likely to be choppy for at least five years.
Launching the museum’s annual report, the museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, spoke of “new kind of engagement” with museums across the UK to develop the sense of there being “one national collection, one community of scholarship”.
He said loans to regional museums – six of the Lewis chessmen to the Hebrides, for example, or Herakles to Bexhill – were complicated to fund but the museum was committed to continue loaning on a very large scale.
“It is part of the British Museum’s role in helping regional museums across the UK with the difficult circumstances they find themselves in – using loans from the museum to persuade their own authorities to support them and to attract other support and other funding. It means an unprecedented level of travelling loans, right across the country.”
MacGregor said the impact of the loans was remarkable. When a Pharaoh exhibition went to Dorchester, he said, it had record visitor numbers. “At every level, the museum feels this lending is critical.”
MacGregor said the problems facing museums outside London were going to be one of the major cultural challenges of the next five years.
Only this week the problems facing the sector were laid bare in an annual survey by the Museums Association, which showed that 51% of UK museums had their funding cut this year and 31% have had a cut for the second year running. Of that latter group, 83% had cut staff and 49% had increased charges for schools.
This comes at a time when museums and galleries have rarely been more popular. The British Museum itself reported 5.8 million visitors in 2011-12, making it the most popular cultural attraction for a fifth year running.
The annual report was launched in a new gallery, funded by Citigroup, telling the history of money using the museum’s extraordinary collection of coins and banknotes.
“It is a dull, grey story punctuated by raspberry episodes,” joked MacGregor. “And it is our misfortune, of course, to be living in a raspberry episode.”
The gallery is a reminder that boom and bust has a long history. MacGregor said: “As you all, with your loved ones, gather round the wireless to hear Robert Peston counter the next apocalypse, you can comfort yourself with the fact that it has all happened before and we can see that here.”
Among the big exhibitions coming up will be the first devoted to ice age art, a time when humankind began making sculpture about the world about them. “It is not just a chance to see the beginnings of a cultural tradition, it is an exhibition about the arrival of the modern mind,” said MacGregor. “Somewhere around 40,000 years ago, we start thinking differently, we start being able to conceive things that don’t exist.”
The last big show in the museum’s reading room, about Pompeii, will be next year. From 2014, major charging exhibitions will be staged in the new £135m extension for which 90% of the funding has been raised, with the Vikings first up.
It was also announced that the Waddesdon bequest will be redisplayed in a new gallery thanks to funding from the Rothschild Foundation. The group of almost 300 objects is a remarkable collection of medieval and Renaissance jewellery, metalwork, glass and ceramics bequeathed by the Rothschilds in 1898. It lives in a rather tired-looking cul-de-sac of a room and from next year will be moved to a new space beyond the Enlightenment gallery.
>British Museum sends artefacts overseas as UK funding falls
Thursday 05 July 2012
The British Museum is no longer just for the British, it seems. As Government funding falls and the museum seeks other sources of cash, the UK’s most popular visitor attraction has more exhibitions on tour than ever before and is increasingly targeting wealthy countries.
The museum has sent artefacts to Abu Dhabi, Australia, Japan and China in the past year and is planning a major collaboration in India.
Neil MacGregor, the museum’s director, said: “Because it is a global collection, it is now being used across the globe. Many of these countries have a stake in supporting us.” Speaking at the launch of the museum’s annual review yesterday, he added: “Lending and acting around the world, there are countries willing to help us. The support is a global one… They are all privately funded.”
The 2011/12 financial year was the first that Government funding was matched, pound for pound, by other revenue streams, including corporate sponsorship, memberships and donations from wealthy individuals. “There is a much greater willingness by the private sector to get involved,” Mr MacGregor said.
Closer to home, he warned about the threat to regional museums.
“It is crucial for regional institutions to get people through the door,” he said, and to persuade their local authorities not to cut funding. “Our job is to give them the means to persuade the local authorities,” he added.
The British Museum welcomed 5.8 million visitors last year. Its exhibitions over the next year cover art from the Ice Age as well as Pompeii.
The annual report also pointed to donations this year including the complete set of Picasso’s Vollard Suite, as well as 17th century private tokens from London and a badge commemorating Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the UK.