June 15, 2005

Pressure to allow deaccessioning grows

Posted at 10:14 pm in British Museum

Following the Feldmann case that highlights the poorly thought out nature of the anti-deaccessioning clauses in the British Museum Act, a report by the Museums Association highlights the same issue, but for entirely different reasons.
Museums collections are getting larger & larger with every new acquisition that they make & the amount of the collection that is never seen by the public also grows.
With museums that are funded by public money, is it acceptable for so much of their collections to be inaccessible the people who are paying for it? Should people be questioning the money spent on new acquisitions, while they only have the space to display a small percentage of what they already own?

The Times

June 14, 2005
Let your treasures see the light of day, museums told
By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

TOO many museum collections are stashed away in storerooms, according to a damning report published yesterday.

Museums are failing to realise the full potential of their collections and must ensure that they really are for everyone, a study by the Museums Association concluded. Jane Glaister, chair of the report’s steering committee, said: “If an object sits in a store for ten years, without anyone looking at it, and if it is not published or made available on the internet, can that museum be realising its responsibilities towards the object and towards the public?”

The report said that if museums do not address the problem, they are going to have “unwelcome solutions” imposed on them.

Collections for the Future is published after an 18-month inquiry by the association, an independent organisation representing the majority of Britain’s 1,500 museums. Its president is Charles Saumarez Smith, director of the National Gallery. The report broaches the sensitive subject of “deaccessioning”, the selling off or disposal of objects from public collections, an option dismissed by most in the British museum world. They point to the vagaries of fashion and cite examples such as the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Merseyside, which in 1958 sold an 1880s Fantin-Latour painting for £10,000 when nobody wanted a Pre-Raphaelite picture, only to see it sell in the early 1990s for more than £1 million.

But the report concluded that it will become increasingly difficult to justify spending public money on caring for public resources whose potential is never seen to be realised.

The report also found that many museums are not developing their collections with the “vibrancy and rigour” needed to ensure that they serve the needs of audiences: “There are too few significant loans, and too few opportunities to see important temporary exhibitions in the UK outside cities.”

The Museum of Reading is applauded for sending parts of its collection to community groups, prisons and schools because it only has room to display 1 per cent of its 500,000 objects. The museum has set aside 20,000 objects for 1,500 “themed boxes”, ranging from ancient history to biology, that are sent into the community.

The British Museum has long dismissed the notion that its storerooms are filled with unseen treasures. Of seven million items in the collection, 75,000 are on display.

But Maurice Davies, deputy director of the association, said: “Many people in the museum world believe that simply holding collections for the future is an end in itself. We’re arguing they must promote their collections and actively use them. There are many things in museum collections that haven’t been looked at by anybody.”

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