Wednesday, July 2, 2014


To: Councillor David Mackintosh, Leader of Northampton Borough Council

Dear Councillor Mackintosh,

We are asking you to listen to the Arts Council, the Museums Association, the Arts Fund, a growing roll call of museum professionals and above all members of the community in Northampton and prevent Northampton becoming a cultural pariah on your watch, by withdrawing the statue of the Egyptian scribe Sekhemka from sale at Christie's on 10 July.

Why is this important?

The proposed sale of the statue of Sekhemka matters to everyone because the issue stretches far beyond one of a single local council attempting to sell off the treasures it holds in trust for one local community and breaching the Museums code of ethics to do it.  It is just the latest in a series of sales, or proposed sales of commercially valuable, nationally or internationally important items from local museum collections including those at Croydon and Southampton.  The commercial sale of such material also impacts on people many thousands of miles away as it indirectly supports the illegal trade in looted antiquiteis and art. 

It is time a line was drawn and local authorities, like Northampton, are shown that the way to solve budget cuts forced by Central Government, is not to impoverish their local culture and put at risk other people's culture, by engaging in speculation on the commercial art and antiquities market.

The sale of Sekhmeka is opposed as unethical and in breach of the Museums Association Code of Ethics by the Museums Association itself, the Arts Council, the Arts Fund, every major UK Museum with an Egyptology collection and a roll call of museum and heritage professionals.

You claim the sale will help you build a £14 million extension to the museum, but the math's do not work.  Even if Sekhmeka reaches its top estimate you will still only raise less than a quarter of the sum you claim to have budgeted for the proposed extension.

Besides, even if you do build the new museum, you will have nothing to put in it.  The sale of Sekhemka will result in Northampton Council losing its Museums Association Accreditation, cutting off Northampton's museums and gallery spaces from any public, charity or lottery funding.

FOI material shows you have already spent over £40k, to facilitate the sale of Sekhemka.  That is the equivilent of the salary of a teacher and a museum curator who could be telling the children of Northampton about the statue and all the other treasures you hold in trust in Northampton's museums.

The proceeds of the sale will not all even go to the people of Northampton because you have agreed to hand over 45%,  as much as £2.7 million, as a free gift to the Marquis of Northampton, one of the richest men in Britain.

It is a free gift because you have announced that Northampton Council Tax payers will be picking up the legal and auction house costs, not the Marquis.

...and the sale may not even be lawful-  you refuse to release the legal advice you and the Marquis have been given because the precise ownership of the statue is disputed and you may also be open to judicial review over the sale itself.

Finally, the eyes of the World are on Northampton and this unnecessary, unethical sale and your actions have an impact far beyond Northampton.  The sale of cultural objects like the statue of Sekhmeka boosts the hammer price of antiquities and indirectly supports the criminals and even terrorists in places like Iraq and Syria, who traffick antiquities from all over the world for sale in the developed world.

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