Monday, 30 March 2015

UK Government issues Export Ban on Sekhemka Statue!

It has been announced today that Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has said that Sekhemka will not be allowed to leave the country.

The BBC are reporting that "Mr Vaizey made the decision following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), which is administered by Arts Council England."

The BBC also quote the RCEWA who are reported to have said that the statue was of "outstanding aesthetic importance" and was significant in the study of "the development of private statuary and funerary religion in Egypt and the history of human self-representation".

The Save Sekhemka Action Group are delighted that the Government has imposed a temporary export ban on the Statue of Sekhemka and we fervently hope that this will be upheld as a permanent ban on 29 July and Sekhemka, an internationally important work of Egyptian Art, will find a home in a public museum where it belongs.

The decision of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) to recommend the ban, not only vindicates our position as to the importance of Sekhemka as a work of art, but also provides much needed clarity as, until now today's announcement, we were not even able to establish that the buyer was from outside the UK.  This was because while the statue is of international importance, was owned by the people of Northampton and was sold by a publicly accountable body, their Council, the process was carried out behind the cloak of privacy and commercial confidentiality.

If the statue of Sekhemka is to be lost to the people of Northampton who enjoyed it for over one hundred years we would like to see Sekhemka retained in the UK.  The only problem is WHERE and HOW it could be retained and displayed since the sale itself was unethical and there is evidence it was also of doubtful legality.  As a consequence none of the UK's major museums wished to acquire it unless it was GIVEN outright - a public body cannot buy something owned by another public body, it is unethical and a misapplication of public money.

We also understand that the Art Fund was outraged when we told them about the proposed sale and declared they would not then help raise funds for a purchase.

Northampton Borough Council committed an act of great folly selling the statue of Sekhmeka.  Even greater was the folly when NBC agreed to buy off Lord Northampton to the tune of £7m thus halving their profit, rather than submitting to a transparent legal clarification of the statue's actual ownership. Now the consequences of this folly are even more apparent: Northampton museums have lost their Accreditation and with that all access to outside funding resulting in a loss of about a third of their income ( in our estimation) - This is not a good position from which to contemplate an extension to the Central Museum.

The Action Group will actively work to uphold the export ban through our many contacts and explore ways of how the statue can be kept in the UK.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Lottery Grant for Northampton Shoe Exhibition Rejected

So with the Sekhemka sale money in the bank the question now is how long will it last with funding options disappearing one by one.

The consequences of the unethical actions of Northampton Borough Council are now being made clear as this week we learn that a £250k application for money to support our shoe collection has been refused.

The damage is already done - we tried to tell NBC, they wouldn't listen.
According to the articles below, a council spokesman said: “While disappointed, we do understand that organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund have a duty to bring as many projects to fruition as possible and reach the widest possible audience, which means in this round Northampton has missed out. We will continue to expand our collection to provide excellent exhibitions and tell the story of Northampton as we welcome visitors to our town.”
Heritage Lottery Firm have though confirmed the bid was ineligible due to not having Arts Council Accreditation and dismissed the borough council’s suggestion it had not received any money because applicataions for this fund were oversubscribed.
Apparently NBC have replied saying: “We were told that our bid was too much for the size of project and understand also that the fund was oversubscribed. We were not told we were ineligible and as far as we are aware accreditation is not a condition of Heritage Lottery Funding.”

The Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund have rules and ethics requirements clearly laid out for good reason.
NBC have created this situation. Who loses out? The people of Northampton.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Farewell Of The Save Sekhemka Action Group

On 10 July 2014 the Sekhemka Statue was sold to an unknown buyer at Christie’s for a gross sum of £16m.  The Action group still does not know who the buyer is or to which country the statue will go.
This sale took place despite the Action Group’s two year campaign to stop it, a campaign that did attract support from ordinary Northampton people as well as eminent academic and museum professionals.
During our campaign we pointed out time and again the consequences of a sale for Northampton Borough Council (NBC) and its museums.  These warnings were ignored by the NBC Cabinet and its Leader, Cllr David Mackintosh, and by the Chief Executive, David Kennedy, and the Director of Cultural and Customer Services, Julie Seddon.
The Museums have lost their Accreditation and membership of the Museums Association (MA) which means that they will no longer be able to receive outside funding from Arts Council England (ACE) or the Heritage Lottery Fund; this is demoralising for the museum staff and places the possibility of the extension to the Central Museum in jeopardy.
The Action Group has reached the end of the road, there are no further effective actions we can take.  However, as a result of our campaigning ACE and the MA are looking at strengthening the rules on the disposal of museum collections and the ethical responsibilities of Local Authorities who have museums in their care;  the academic world is debating their role in caring for collections.
The Action Group will keep its website and face book page open and UPDATED on ALL developments.  We are also supporting research by various Egyptian institutions regarding the legality of the 2nd Marquess of Northampton’s purchase and export of the statue in 1850; was it in accordance with the then Egyptian laws on antique artefacts since there is, as far as we know, no documentation on this in the UK? If the purchase and export of Sekhemka can be proved to be illegal the Egyptian authorities would like the statue repatriated – an outcome the Action Group would welcome unless a major British museum would act as a custodian on behalf of Egypt.
The members of the Action Group are sad that our two years of work did not have a more positive outcome; we are very grateful for all the support given by the public, the museum world, ACE and the MA and we fervently hope that our disappointment will not result in other action groups holding back in their campaigns – go for it and think positively.
Gunilla Loe
Chair of the Save Sekhemka Action Group
Northampton 30 October 2014

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Northampton Museums Service barred from Museums Association membership

Northampton Museums Service has been barred from Museum Association membership for at least five years.

David Fleming, chairman of the MA's Ethics Committee, said: “We do appreciate the huge financial pressure that many local authority museums are under at the present time, but the MA's Code of Ethics provides for such a sale only as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored. At a time when public finances are pressured it is all the more important that museum authorities behave in an ethical fashion in order to safeguard the long-term public interest. Museums have a duty to hold their collections in trust for society. They should not treat their collections as assets to be monetised for short-term gain."

We wholeheartedly agree and have been saying this for many months. Sadly the worst has happened for Northampton's museums.

You can read the decision in full here:

Friday, 1 August 2014

Northampton Museum loses Accreditation due to Sekhemka sale

The members of the Save Sekhemka Action Group are deeply saddened to learn of the Northampton Museums’ Loss of Accreditation.  During our 2 year campaign to halt the sale of the Egyptian funerary statue, Sekhemka, we have time and again warned that the unethical sale would result in loss of this status. 
We regret this because it will mean the certain decline of both the Central and Abington Museum since the loss of this status stops the Museum Service being eligible for outside grants from the Lottery, Arts Council England and other art/cultural grant giving bodies. 
This monetary loss is likely to be greater than the £8m gross NBC received for the statue. 
It also means that NBC is now free to sell whatever else does not fit in with Councillor David Mackintosh’s vision of the town’s museums and collections. 
Nothing in the collections will be safe unless it is shoe related: many of the 92 art items and artefacts donated by the Friends of Northampton Museums & Art Gallery will be sold, likewise many artworks bought with funds from the Art Fund, the V&A and other bodies provided the grants are re-paid.  Nothing is safe. 
The Action Group hopes that this removal of Accreditation will serve as a warning to other museums and Local Authorities: do NOT sell items from public collections – it is unethical and unprofessional and will ultimately mean that the great cultural assets the UK has in its various provincial museums will be a vague and distant memory in the near future.
This is indeed a BLACK and SHAMEFUL day for Northampton’s Culture and Heritage.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Today Arts Council England decide on Accreditation for Northampton Museum

So Sekhemka has disappeared, possibly forever, into an unaccountable private collection has come within days of a meeting of where Arts Council England will discuss removing Northampton Council's Accreditation as an ethically run Museum.

This news makes it all the more important that Arts Council England (ACE) and the Museums Association demonstrate the consequences of such unethical and damaging actions as selling publicly owned museum objects for short term profit, and punish Northampton Council by removing their Accredited status. 

This will hurt and humiliate our Town in the short term, but at least it will serve as a warning to others who would try to cash in on the museum collections we hold in trust for the future.  It might also prevent the Cllr Mackintosh and his Ruling Group from taking any more Government, Lottery and Charity grants under the false pretenses that they are professionally and ethically equipped to care for our culture and heritage.

Both keeping and losing accreditation are two terrible outcomes of this whole episode - the damage was already done when Sekhemka was sold.

A decision is expected from ACE within the next two weeks. The Museums Association will make a decision in September 2014.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Spinning Sekhemka

No amount of political spinning, or dazzling the press and public with the number of zero's at the end of the auction price, can hide the fact that last night's sale of Sekhemka in Christie's was an entirely avoidable, counter productive, day of shame for Northampton.  A shame compounded by the fact that the decision of one man, taken against all professional advice locally, nationally and internationally has led the world and the people of Egypt in particular, to see Britain as a place which sees Egypt's rich and historic culture as a chip to be bet on and cashed in, not a jewel of human creativity to be shared and cherished.

  • We will continue to oppose the turning of Sekhemka into a commodity to be sold on the rich persons equivalent of E-bay, therefore we will oppose the export of the statue from the UK if that is what transpires, whoever the new owner of Sekhemka is.  Particularly if that owner is a private individual who will not put Sekhemka on free public display.  If Sekhemka is not to stay on open display in the UK his only legitimate destination is a public museum in Egypt. 

  • We will also continue to expose the way this unethical, unnecessary and short sighted sale was undertaken, the many legal and financial questions which surround the sale and the conduct in public office of those whose mission it became to rob Northampton of both a cultural jewel and its cultural credibility.  We hope the local and national Media will join us in that quest for information and answers.
  • We hope the media will also ask Cllr Mackintosh why he insisted on undermining confidence in the Conservative party's core policy in Arts and Culture, promoting philanthropy and donation.  As Alan Moore has pointed out, thanks to the sale of Sekhemka, no-one would dream of donating something valuable to a public museum if at some stage it can be taken away and flogged off to the highest bidder in a commercial fire sale

However, we are where we are and we must respond to the fact that Sekhemka was sold at Christie's for £15,762,500.

Cllr Mackintosh and Northampton Borough Council announced last night that " will retain around £8million (55 per cent of the proceeds), while the remainder will be remitted to Lord Northampton (around £6million)."

  • What the Council statement did not say was that the auction costs [around 15%] and taxes will be deducted from that figure, and we might also add the over £40,000 of council Tax payers money spent on legal advice to facilitate the sale.  Thus the Council Tax payers of Northampton could see scarcely half of the headline figure spent in the Town, ring fenced or not.

  • Equally, while the statement was open about the fact that the Marquis of Northampton will be receiving a windfall of over £5 million, the statement did not enlighten the Council Tax payers of Northampton why, when NBC allegedly "owned" Sekhemka, they will be adding to the fortune of the multimillionaire Marquis and paying for it by becoming pariahs in the museum and heritage world.  Like the Museums Association, we believe that the ownership of Sekhemka was never legally resolved and we will be consulting with colleagues to see if an investigation can be mounted into whether Councillor Mackintosh and Northampton Borough Council misled the public, the media and Christie's by saying they did own the statue.

In the statement Cllr Mackintosh has also attempted to spin his way out of the almost universal condemnation his actions have caused to be dumped on Northampton's name and in particular the likelihood that Northampton will lose its Museums Association accreditation, along with the credibility in museum matters which it has already lost.
His statement says

"Work has already begun on drawing up detailed plans for the [museum]  extension, which will underpin the growth of Northampton’s Cultural Quarter. The Borough Council is in the process of developing a funding package to take the extension forward, including putting together a bid for support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Council is also continuing to talk to the Arts Council about museum accreditation."
  • We are sure it does.  Councillor Mackintosh was explicitly warned by Arts Council England and the Museums Association Ethics Committee that Museums Association accreditation was in severe danger were Sekhemka to be sold and with it access to many significant funding streams to supply the £7-8 million which will still be required to build the still hypothetical museum extension, even with Sekhemka's cultural equivalent of  blood money.

Cllr Mackintosh also said: "This money will allow us to realise our exciting plans for the future of the Museum Service. Every penny is ring-fenced for the Museum Service and we will now make our museum redevelopment plans a reality."

  • We would point out that without the commitment to display the cream of all the collections and to hold a research archive curated by the  specialist curatorial staff and teachers who have been made redundant or not replaced, the Museum Service has no future.  Museums exist for their collections held in trust for the future and the expertise to display, describe and bring them to life for visitors and researchers. 

  • We would also point out there were no "Museum development plans" when Councillor Mackintosh first wanted to sell Sekhemka [such plans were first mentioned when it became clear that the original plan to allegedly give the money to the Delapre Abbey Trust was a non starter as far as the Museums Association Ethics Committee was concerned.  There still are no such detailed, costed, plans.  Unless you count a cafe and shoe shop with a small gallery space.
Today's spinning is not just political.  It might just be the shade of Sekhemka spinning in his grave, although he might be heartened to know that thousands of people all over the world wanted to treat his beautiful artistic, archaeological legacy with the respect it deserves and demands under national and international ethical codes, and not have him hawked around and flogged off as the bauble to adorn a rich individual or institution.
The only way for Northampton to begin to climb out of the reputational mire into which it has been dropped by Councillor Mackintosh's sale of Sekhemka, is for the Museum Service to be handed back to the professionals who know how to run it ethically and for the good of the Town.  Otherwise we fear that this is the future of our Museums Service

Q:  What do you say to a Northampton Egyptologist?

A:  Two Cappuccino's and a Skinny Latte please

Media Contact  

For further comments, additional material including documents or images or to request interviews with members of the Save Our Sekhemka Action Group team please contact

Andy Brockman 
72 Nithdale Road
Telephone:               0208 316 6358                        
Mobile                      07958 543518