Saturday, 12 July 2014

Sekhemka: Assurance Broken, Funds Reassigned Already

Community choir instead of Sekhemka?
There was some kind of secret agreement with the Marquess of Northampton which allowed him to reclaim title to an item that one of his predecessors had donated in perpetuity to the people of Northampton. The details were never made public. The campaigners concerned about what might be going on behind the scenes and national supervisory bodies were assured by Cllr David ("selling-off the people's heritage") Mackintosh, Leader of Northampton Borough Council (Statement: The sale of the statue of Sekhemka - Thursday, 10 July 2014): "Every penny is ring-fenced for the Museum Service and we will now make our museum redevelopment plans a reality."

Within a day, when one can assume that no party actually has yet any of the money from the sale physically 'in hand', this was shown to be untrue. The same David MacIntosh tweeted (11th July): 
Pleased that Lord Northampton is donating £1million from his share of the sale of Sekhemka to to help community projects 
Assigning money raised by this scandalous sale to "helping community projects" all over Northamptonshire is I am sure very nice, but it is not helping the redevelopment plans of the Northampton Museum a reality, the museum who we were all promised would be getting "every penny" raised. Here "the Museum" refers to a specific institution, the one to which the Sekhemka statue was donated in perpetuity, and from which the Borough Council took it cynically flaunting the explicit disapproval of the entire professional museum world. Already (if NBC keeps its word), they are getting only around £8million of the 15 million paid out by the new owner (minus legal costs etc). Is the passing of funds directly originating from the sale through the Northamptonshire Community Foundation (A grant giving/philanthropic charity in Northamptonshire) merely a form of spreading about the proceeds, so they do not get diverted to the specific purpose indicated as promised? Was this agreed in any way beforehand in the agreement between the NBC and the Marquess of Northampton? I questioned this, writing to David MacIntosh (11th July):
You said the proceeds of the sale would be "ring fenced" for the museum. Does this apply to this 1 milln too?
One of the criticisms of the campaigners of Mr MacIntosh's style of government is he will not answer any questions on these issues. Here we see it again, nobody in his office replied, explaining how "every penny" is not in fact "every penny" because there are some "pennies" (100 million of them to be precise) which are wandering their way somewhere else in Northamptonshire entirely, and he's reportedly "very pleased" about that. The "Northants Comm Found" however attempted to get him off the hook
funds to our Charity have been donated by Lord Northampton and will support community groups. plans
If you look at their twitter feed you'll see some sycophantic posts (here , here and here) drooling over his lordship's cash. The Foundation claims "We support grassroots groups and community projects providing essential services". It turns out that these "essential services" are rather diverse and one would question whether the notion of 'essential" has not become distorted here. The local newspaper has found out that the Sekhemka money will be spent by the Foundation on  "organisations such as a world war memorial group, a community choir, volunteer networks supporting a heritage site or local museum, young people engaging with arts and music activities or any number of good causes in the arts and heritage field". Note slipping in volunteer networks supporting [...] a local museum". This skips over the question of which one. In addition, the whole subject of unpaid labour in the British museum sector is currently a subject of considerable debate among heritage professionals and is a further sign of the abandonment by local and national authorities of their duties towards museums, of which the Sekhemka sale is another symptom. There are other sources of funding for looking after war memorials (should come out of local authority budgets), community choirs, painting and music workshops, and other good causes in the arts and heritage fields than asset stripping the local museums.

Lord Northampton reportedly said: “Hopefully, the foundation can attract further match funding ...” I would ask who is going to match-fund money raised by dealing in antiquities which should never have been on the market in the first place (the title to which has not been established)? What next, match-funding donations to foundations made by... well, who knows?  Perhaps the scramble for money is so intense that nobody really cares where the money comes from - "Northants Comm Found" included. But then, are there not things that are valued higher than mere money? Even in Northampton?

'EXCLUSIVE: Lord Northampton donates £1 million to Northamptonshire Community Foundation from sale of Sekhemka', Northampton Chroicle and Echo  11th July 2014.

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