Museums are amazing. When we asked readers for their memories of visits this week, the stories poured forth, many of them recalled decades on from school trips or family outings. One wrote "As a child of around 9 ... I was allowed to hold a 4,000 year old clay oil lamp. My hands embracing the long dead grip of an anonymous ancient woman. It was magic." These are the spaces where a sense of awe at our place in human history can be awakened for the first time.
So there are two very sad things about the sale of the statue of Sekhemka, a 4,000-year-old Egyptian civil servant, by Northampton borough council. Last night it was auctioned by Christie's, going for £16m; after the buyers premium is taken into account, Lord Northampton will make about £6m and the council £8m. The proceeds will be used to build an extension to Northampton museum and art gallery, where it was housed.
The first is that the artefact, taken from
Everyone knows that small museums, often run by local authorities, are under huge financial pressure. Essential services, like social care or housing, are the natural priority for councils faced with budget cuts. Arts and culture are seen as low-hanging fruit. In the
Very rarely are they sold. The sector acknowledges that disposing of objects should only ever be a "last resort". The outcry over this sale is a mark of what a radical move it was.
But the council isn't the real villain in this story. Desperate times call for desperate measures – it's only money that allows our heritage to be adequately preserved and displayed, after all. In the past, it's been suggested that our thriving national museums, which have been free to visit since 2001, start charging again, with sales used to help smaller institutions. This strikes me as cutting off the nose to spite the face. Taking away entrance fees has given the public a real sense of ownership of extraordinary collections like the V&A, or
No; it would be better for the money to be raised in a way that will not undermine this boon. Instead it could be taken from those who have cash to spare. The
Let's give our local museums a slice of the expanding art pie and make Sekhemka the last object to be spirited out of sight of awe-struck visitors.
Most Popular Stories
- Homeowners More Satisfied With Mortgage Servicers
- Discounts Help U.S. Auto Sales Sizzle in July
- Russia, Ukraine Now Face Off Over Football Clubs
- Colorado Issuing Immigrant Driver's Licenses
- Recruiting and Keeping the Perfect Employee
- MassMutual Teams Up With ALPFA
- Chrysler U.S. Sales in July Hit 9-Year High
- Fiat Looks Abroad After Chrysler Merger Vote
- Dow Wipes Out Gains for the Year: What Happens Now?
- House Shelves Immigration Bill, Goes on Vacation