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                              


  1. Hope the proposed shoe shop is not being stocked from the shoes I donated to the collection a while ago. PJ

  2. Seriously - I would contact them to ask the question, maybe when the implications of the sale become a reality they will realise what they have done. Do keep us informed.