The British Museum is to introduce "sponsored curators" and exhibition wings as part of a drastic financial overhaul designed to avoid a projected £5m budget deficit.
It raises the prospect of eminent archaeologists and art historians patrolling galleries wearing badges sponsored by multinational conglomerates.
Directors of the struggling attraction are canvassing for big business investors willing to pay all or part of the salaries of resident experts in an initiative modelled on the oft-criticised university chair system. And in an attempt to bridge the divide between capital and revenue spending, they are hoping to tie patrons who fund future building projects into deals requiring them to foot their maintenance costs once they are complete.
News of the radical moves comes just weeks after the museum revealed the full seriousness of its financial predicament. It predicted that this financial year's expected £2.3m deficit will have more than doubled by 2004/5.
"It is already common for universities to have the 'so-and-so professor of whatever'," said Christopher Jones, the museum's accounting officer. "We will be looking for sponsors to fund either specific posts or specific areas of collections."
One reason for its financial quandary is that, unlike many other national collections, it has never charged for entry.Reuse content