25 April 1991 - 27 April 1991

Museums and Galleries: Collecting, Funding and Protecting the Heritage

Chair: The Rt Hon Sir Richard Luce MP

We were privileged to have a large and distinguished gathering for this conference drawn from seven countries, unfortunately not including France. Thus, the weekend provided a good opportunity to explore the differing philosophies and practices in various countries and the problems of the international trade in cultural objects (defined as including both works of art and objects of archaeological and historical interest, but not natural history, e.g. fossils). By the nature of things discussion of trade issues was more focussed and more apt for arriving at conclusions than the more general area of philosophy and practice. Nevertheless, some useful thoughts emerged in the latter area as well.

First, there was general agreement that while works of art differed from objects of archaeological interest, the collection, conservation and display of both categories had sufficient in common to make it sensible to consider them together. One participant offered a definition of the purpose of making and displaying such collections: “to feed and stretch the faculty of wonder in as many people as can be reached, with a product in all respects good enough for the purpose”. This seemed to find general approval: perhaps it is the element of wonder which provides the link between the two sub-heads into which cultural objects as defined divide.

Under the broad heading of management some specific areas were addressed: the role of trustees, the rights of donors, funding, entry charges, merchandising, acquisition and disposal (de-accessioning in the jargon), the fiscal privileges attaching to gifts to museums (a term I shall use in this note to include galleries), special exhibitions and lending policies.

In the US, trustee boards, it appeared, were more closely involved in day to day management than in Britain and were often self-perpetuating. In many cases, moreover, members were selected with an eye to their fund-raising potential, which did not normally apply in Britain. In both cases government interference could be discounted. It seemed that the concept of trustees was less well known in continental Europe, but in each case, the differences arise from legal and conventional tradition, and I suggest no general principles can be deduced.

Funding generated much discussion. Clearly all museums are under pressure, governments everywhere, whether central or local, looking more closely at the level and application of funding from the tax-payer. Indeed, one participant argued that all fiscal privileges accorded to donations to museums amounted to concealed subsidies and should be abolished; and further that with lower tax levels, donations would not suffer, a view rejected by the majority. The latest revision of US law covering donations was thought to be working well, which provided encouragement for those seeking more generous treatment for charitable giving in Britain. A national lottery, while it raised much money, could be an insecure basis for funding the arts if other claims were admitted.

There was spirited discussion of methods of generating income by entrance charges, disposals and merchandising. Here there is a marked difference between American and British attitudes, Britain perhaps alone maintaining the position of principle (though with more and more exceptions) that entrance to museums should be free. In the US charges are common (except for the National Gallery where they are prohibited by law) and there seemed to be a strong sentiment that if the alternative to charging (or disposal) was closure, trustees and others needed to think carefully before rejecting such sources of revenue. This applied particularly to small regional and private museums. Acquisition and disposal policies generated perhaps the sharpest disagreement, some rejecting the idea of disposal a priori (except in the rare case of genuine duplicates) for well-known reasons, but particularly because aesthetic taste changes, while others suggested that if survival was at stake or if collections had got out of hand through past misguided acquisitions, there was a strong case for disposal. Even those who accepted the propriety of disposal in certain circumstances generally argued that the proceeds should be applied to acquisition rather than operating costs.

The rights of donors must be borne in mind: it was clearly wrong to dispose of an object (or to treat it in other ways) in violation of the express wishes of the original donor. Some donors’ conditions however were unreasonable and should be rejected. The whole relationship could be difficult.

Merchandising, it was noted, was a profitable and growing source of income, but had to be managed with taste and discretion. Outlets need not be confined to museums but could be sited in other locations.

There was discussion of lending policy and the merits of special exhibitions. In general, special exhibitions were favoured, though it was essential to maintain and monitor quality, especially where, regrettably, such exhibitions were seen as instruments of foreign policy or commercial promotion. One participant described ruefully the adverse criticism of a travelling exhibition designed with a clear and stated political aim. While sponsors reasonably expected recognition, it must be discreet.

Particular merit was seen in special exhibitions from the permanent collections: they highlighted particular areas, stimulated interest in the general collection and advanced the cataloguing of that collection, an area in which some suggested some museums lagged. In this context, museums should cooperate more widely among themselves, e.g. through loans for a term (national arrangements for insurance and indemnity were generally thought to be satisfactory): this was particularly important for the smaller regional museums.

In the area of the law and of trade in cultural objects, there was a general presumption in favour of free trade, albeit with caveats, varying from country to country. However, even those who felt most threatened, because of the richness of their cultural heritage, the quantity of cultural objects and the difficulty of controlling the trade, seemed to accept that export of some cultural objects was often desirable.

The British criteria established in the Waverley procedure (with widely drawn definitions, liberally applied) had the objective of balancing fairness to the owner against the public interest. The Waverley procedure was recognised generally as setting a standard in the field of exports which others might be encouraged to follow (though at least one participant questioned whether the British tradition in this area could be transplanted). The listing of all cultural objects, one idea being considered in the EC, was generally seen as unfair to owners, rigid, expensive, bureaucratic, and impracticable, though one participant continued to argue for the listing of a limited range of objects of the first class.

One unfortunate effect of the Waverley procedure and the operation of the British Heritage and National Art Collection Funds, it was noted, was to increase the centralisation of acquisition policy, thus reducing the freedom of individual museums, whose acquisition budgets were invariably too small to compete in the export market

In dealing with the international black market in cultural objects, Group B reached agreement, in some cases unanimous, on several propositions, primarily that the draft convention formulated in Unidroit (an international body of lawyers working in this case under a UNESCO umbrella) was a good start, even though some issues (e.g. the limitation periods relating to stolen goods and illicitly exported goods respectively) represented compromises that some found unsatisfactory. (This draft provides that a claimant, whether on grounds of theft or illegal export, should be able to pursue his claim to restitution in the national courts of the state where the object is held, and if his claim is upheld is required to compensate the bona fide holder, a key provision to limit vexatious litigation.) Two problems in any such legal system will remain: the need to harmonise the law on title and the difficulty of proving provenance in the case of an illicitly excavated and exported object, where ignorance of its archaeological context compounds the damage. The conference saw no solution to the latter problem other than active police work, but felt that the Unidroit convention, if applied, together with a reasonably liberal export regime for objects which had been excavated and catalogued in an authorised and scientific manner, would reduce the incentive for criminal activity. In any case, the best was the enemy of the good.

Another disputed area in the draft convention was the proposal that no restrictions should be placed on the international movement of a cultural object during its creator’s lifetime and for a period of 50 years after his death: several thought this period was much too long.

Finally, the point was made that archaeology at sea, outside the territorial waters of a state, raised issues which needed to be tackled.

This Note reflects the Director's personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Chairman: The Rt Hon Sir Richard Luce MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative) Shoreham


Mr Richard Calvocoressi
Keeper, Scottish Gallery of Modem Art, Edinburgh; Governor, Glasgow School of Art

Dr Peter Cannon-Brookes
International Museum Consultant; Editor, International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship; Trustee, Welsh Sculpture Trust; Consultant Curator, Tabley House Collection; author

Mr Richard Crewdson
Senior Partner, Field Fisher Waterhouse, London; Member, working party, UNIDROIT convention; Founder and Chairman, International Bar Association committee on Cultural Property Law

Professor Francis Haskell
Professor of Art History, University of Oxford and Fellow, Trinity College, Oxford; Member of Reviewing Committee, Export of Works of Art; Executive Committee, National Art Collections Fund; Trustee, Wallace Collection; author

Mr Charles Henderson
Head of Office of Arts and Libraries, Cabinet Office, London

Mr Andrew Hill
Senior Partner, W E Hill & Sons; President, International Confederation of Negotiators in Works of Art

Mr Peter Longman
Director (formerly Secretary), Museums & Galleries Commission, London; Member, Council, Textile Conservation Centre Ltd

Dr Neil MacGregor
Director, The National Gallery, London

Mr Richard Ormond
Director, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

The Rt Hon the Earl of Perth PC
Chairman, Reviewing Committee on Export of Works of Art (1972-76); Trustee, National Library of Scotland

Ms Anna Somers Cocks
Editor, The Art Newspaper

Lady Vaizey
Art Critic, Sunday Times; Fine Arts Advisory Committee, British Council; Crafts Council; Trustee: National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside; Geffrye Museum, London; Imperial War Museum

Sir Peter Wakefield KBE CMG
Director, the National Art-Collections Fund

Mr Richard Wilding CB
Trustee, National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside; author.

Sir David Wilson
Director, British Museum

The Rt Hon the Lord Windlesham CVO PC
Principal, Brasenose College, Oxford; Director, The Observer, W H Smith Group pic

Dr Christopher Stephens
Director, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada; Chairperson, UNESCO Commission for cooperation between Arctic cultural agencies; Commission member for “Culture and Language”, UN International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs; board member, Inuit Cultural Institute; Chairman, Canadian Conference on Historical Resources; President, UN Northern Indigenous Arts Council

Mr Pierre Théberge
Director, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Dr Roman Prahl
Head of Academic Programmes, National Gallery, Prague

Dr Angelika Ruge-Schatz
Head of Department, Stiftung Haus der Geschichte, Bonn; curator of the Art and Design Collection.

Herr Bogislav von Wentzel
Founder of Wentzel Gallery, Cologne; Spokesman and Co-chairman, Deutscher Kunstrat, concentrating on the future art legislation of the EC.

Dr Rosa Maria Letts
Chairman of Board of Directors, Accademia Italiana delle Arti e delle Arti Applicate, London

Dr Eamonn Kelly
Assistant Keeper, Irish Antiquities Division, National Museum of Ireland

Dr Nuşin Asgari
Director of survey work in Roman marble quarries on Proconnesus; Member: German Archaeological Institute, American Research Institute in Turkey

Mr Daniel L Belin
Founding Partner, Belin & Rawlings (Lawyers), Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Trustee; Member, Board of Governors, Music Center of Los Angeles; Trustee, Ahmanson Foundation; Member, Board of Directors, Los Angeles Philharmonic Association

Mr J Carter Brown
Director, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; Chairman, Commission of Fine Arts, Washington DC; Trustee: American Academy in Rome, American Federation of Arts, Coming Museum of Glass, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University; Treasurer, White House Historical Association; Member: Association of Art Museum Directors, Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, National Portrait Gallery Commission.

Mr Carroll J Cavanagh
Principal Assistant to Paul Mellon

The Hon Douglas Dillon
President, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (1970-78)

Mr Lawrence A Fleischman
President and Chief Executive Officer, Kennedy Galleries Inc; co-founder, Archives of American Art (1984); founder and publisher, The American Art Journal; Bryant Fellow and member of the Chairman’s Council, Metropolitan Museum of Art; board member, Art Dealers Association of America

Mr Arthur Gelb
President, The New York Times Foundation

Professor William D Grampp
Visiting Professor of Economics, University of Chicago

Mrs Drue Heinz
Publishing Company Executive, New York

Ms Manuela Hoelterhoff
Books Editor, The Wall Street Journal; author on the arts

Mr Phillip Johnston
Director, The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Curator of Decorative Arts and Head of Section of Antiquities, Oriental and Decorative Arts

Professor John Henry Merryman
Sweitzer Professor of Law, Stanford University; President, American Academy of Foreign Law; President, International Cultural Property Society; Chairman, Board of Editors, International Journal of Cultural Properly, Editorial Board, International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship; Consulting Editor, Journal of Arts Management and Law.

Mr Robert Montgomery Scott
President and Chief Executive Officer, Trustee, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Mr Andrew Oliver Jr
Director, Museum Program National Endowment for the Arts, Washington DC

Ms Marilyn Perry
Foundation Executive, Samuel H Kress Foundation, New York; Chairman, World Monuments Fund; Trustee: The Burlington Magazine Foundation, Salzburg Seminar; Trustee and Member, Executive Committee, National Building Museum; Director, The Spain Fund Inc; Member, International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) Commission with the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences

Mr Arthur Ochs Sulzberger
Publisher, The New York Times and chairman, The New York Times Company; Chairman, Board of Trustees, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Life Trustee, Columbia University