Northampton Sekhemka sale 'catastrophic' says Alan Moore

Sekhemka statue Image copyright Christies
Image caption The limestone statue is 30in (76cm) high and it was "gifted" to Northampton in 1880

Renowned comic book writer Alan Moore says a council's plans to sell a 4,000-year-old Egyptian statue valued at about £6m "could only be catastrophic".

Northampton Borough Council is looking to auction the Sekhemka limestone statue to help fund a £14m extension to Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

Arts Council England has warned if the sale goes through later, the museum could lose its accreditation status.

This would make it ineligible for a range of future grants and funding.

Image copyright BBC/Christies
Image caption Comic book writer Alan Moore said the sale would bring "resounding shame" on Northampton

Mr Moore, from Northampton, whose work includes Watchmen and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, said the planned sale is "undercutting one of the fundamental principles by which museums acquire artefacts in their collections.

"I've donated things to the museum. But I would not be able to do that again in the knowledge that at some point in the future that gifts, made in good faith, could be sold off by a council."

'Ethically undermined'

The Accreditation Scheme sets nationally agreed standards for museums in the UK demonstrating their commitment to managing collections effectively for the enjoyment and benefit of users.

The scheme also has strict criteria for the disposal of cultural objects.

Image copyright christies
Image caption Northampton Borough Council wanted to sell the statue to help fund a museum extension
Image copyright Christies
Image caption The statue of Sekhemka - who was a royal chief, judge and administrator - shows him reading a scroll

Ruth Thomas, from the Save Sekhemka Action Group, said: "The money gained by the sale of the statue would be completely offset by the much greater amount lost from grants and subsidies no longer available if the museum loses its accreditation.

"Ethically, it undermines the whole purpose of museums which is to safeguard collections for future generations."

Scott Furlong, from Arts Council England said: "We are very disappointed to hear that Northampton Museum is going ahead with plans to sell Sekhemka.

"Those who choose to approach the sale of collections will only further alienate both key funders and the public who put their trust in them to care for our shared inheritance.

"As a result of this decision, we will be assessing Northampton Museum's accreditation status in the coming months."

Northampton Museum funding:

  • £900,000 annual budget, according to Northampton Borough Council
  • £166,000 granted in 2012 by Arts Council England for two projects and £69,000 granted in 2014 to digitise the museum's collection of 10,000 shoes online
  • £615,000 Heritage Lottery Fund total grants for various projects

A Heritage Lottery Fund spokesperson said: "The potential loss of Arts Council England's accreditation standard would not affect HLF's support for any project that is already being delivered.

"Looking to the future, if such a loss occurs it would be taken into account in assessing any application relating specifically to Northampton Museum and Art Gallery."

But David Mackintosh, leader of Northampton Borough Council, said having kept Arts Council England "informed of our actions and plans... we see no reason why we should not retain our accredited status".

Egyptian challenge

On Tuesday, Egypt's Antiquities Ministry challenged the sale which is due to be held by at Christie's in London.

The Cairo-based ministry, dedicated to recovering antiquities, has collected petition signatures from Egypt, the UK, Belgium and Canada to stop the sale.

Mr Moore added: "If we look like the kind of place that's prepared to sell off all of its culture, all of its heritage, at the drop of a hat, this would be a resounding shame upon this town and the people who are governing it."

The proceeds of any sale will be shared with Lord Northampton whose family "gifted" the statue in 1880.

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