Letter: Dishonouring museum bequests

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The Independent Online
Dishonouring museum bequests

Sir: David Lister fails to put the question of fidelity to donors' conditions in its proper context ("When treasure becomes a burden", 16 April). From the beginning, and never more so than now, British and American museums have been built up on the basis that much of their resources would be provided by individuals rather than the public. To encourage their gifts, promises to honour the donors' conditions were made, unless those were unacceptable, in which case the gifts should have been declined. It is therefore dishonest to renege on that contract by trampling on the conditions once the donor is powerless to object.

There are two sorts of collector involved: those who collect with their own money and those, the museum directors, who collect with other people's. It is natural that they should sometimes have divergent ideas and that directors should hope to have the last word, and to that end they invoke the principle of "changing circumstances". Museums, however, exist in part to embalm the past rather than to dress it up as the present. And the present offers no consensus on such topics as deaccessioning, entry charges, display and loans.

Dr SELBY WHITTINGHAM

Secretary-General, Donor Watch

London SW5

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