Letter from Donor Watch (PAP 49)
We would like to support the call of the Museums
Association for the present system of selection of trustees of
our national museums to be questioned.
I have made some points in my article "Can
trustees by trusted?" in ArtWatch UK Newsletter, 9,
In particular it is troubling that some boards
of trustees seem to have little concept of their obligation to
honour the terms under which they have received gifts and bequests.
The Museums Association helps to put that obligation in doubt,
when its Code of Ethics for Museums (2002) states that all those
who work in museums should (7.11) "uphold and comply with
conditions set by benefactors and accepted by the museum, unless
changed circumstances means that conditions need to be reconsidered
in the light of what is generally held to be the public interest."
As Trollope remarked, the plea of "changed circumstances"
may give carte blanche to do anything. Lord Jowitt, sometime
Tate chairman and Labour Lord Chancellor, expressed unqualified
disapproval of the disregard of donors' conditions, but today
some are unfortunately more equivocal.
Secondly, it is regretable if trustees representing
some other body are eliminated. When I worked for Manchester City
Art Gallery, various bodies (such as the Royal Manchester Institution,
which had given the main building) nominated some of the members
of the gallery's committee, to the general benefit of its deliberations.
Those have since been swept away. The Tate has said that it has
no representative trustees. That disregards the fact that two
are generally artists, representing informally their confre"res,
and others represent Tate St Ives and Tate Liverpool and the National
Gallery. However these are not appointed by outside bodies. Proposed
extension of this has been summarily dismissed in the past.
As it is, there appears to be a lack of independence
among trustees, a fact which must stem from their method of appointment.
Some private museums have made more effort to be more wide-ranging
in their selection of trustees eg the Nöle Museum in Germany,
which is enjoined to have at least one selected from the general
public or "man in the street".
Dr Selby Whittingham