Museums are Ethical, and here's what we mean by that

(Image copyright Museums Association UK) 

Working with museums is a blessing, as they always have an ethical code of conduct to follow. Whenever there is a doubt about right or wrong, there is a standard code of practice, and there is also a committee in place to discuss any situations that may be difficult to define.

As an individual who collaborates with museums on exhibition loans, patronage or research, it is helpful to understand the Code of Ethics that museums in the UK and worldwide have to follow.

Here is a short quote from the Museums Association website:

“The values in this definition are developed within ten core museum principles prefacing the Code of Ethics. These principles summarise the key points of the code and are headings for sections within it. 

Museums should:

1: Hold collections in trust for the benefit of society

2: Focus on public service

3: Encourage people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment

4: Consult and involve communities, users and supporters

5: Acquire items honestly and responsibly

6: Safeguard the long term public interest in the collections

7: Recognise the interests of people who made, used, owned, collected or gave items in the collections

8: Support the protection of natural and human environments

9: Research, share and interpret information related to collections, reflecting diverse views

10: Review performance to innovate and improve

There is an interesting case of a loan from an auction house in their Q&A archive, mentioning what to do if the loan is obviously going to raise the profile of the sale afterwards.

Their main concern is about the public’s opinion of the museum’s mission:

“… the public will inevitably be aware of the impending sale and so it will be virtually impossible not to give the impression that this is a sale preview. 

In so doing, it is difficult to see how the museum can avoid appearing to promote the sale and adding value to the works on display.”

Also, there is an interesting question about museums making money from lending works, what a museum would call a ’commercial loan’. 

They state:

“Properly administered picture loan schemes are an excellent means of widening access and of raising much needed revenue. The new code encourages museums to be more commercially minded provided that their activities do not ‘bring the museum into disrepute, reduce public access, subject the collections to unacceptable risk or jeopardise finances’ ”

What do you think about Ethical practice in museums when relating to the private sector?