All three museums managed by Museums Worcestershire are accredited; this long-standing scheme is a benchmark of professional museum standards. Reaching and maintaining the standard is also an important measure for many grant funds with drastic consequences for museums that are stripped of the award.
Responsible management of museum collections is central to Museum Accreditation. We are constantly aware that the decisions we make today will affect how curators in the future can care for the objects, partly because we are ourselves responding to the decisions made over the last 183 years of collecting in Worcester.
The decision to bring this tapestry copy of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper into the Worcester City collection is not one we would make today. Sadly the long-ago curator who made the decision left no documentation as to why they did so. With no obvious link to the history of Worcester or Worcestershire, and a limited amount of artistic merit, we class it as of low significance within the fine art collection. As such, it has remained in store for several decades.
The Illustration Beats Explanation exhibition at Worcester City Art Gallery in the autumn of 2015 allowed us an opportunity to display it, alongside other works some of which we struggle to fit into our programme of themed, high-quality exhibitions. As with most museums, we have more collections than we have room to display them and rotating the exhibitions is an important part of the work we do. In the period April to October 2015, we put 121 objects from the collection newly on display.
Our natural inclination as professional curators and the Museums Association’s code of ethics tells us that, once acquired, objects should remain within the collection and continue to be cared for in perpetuity. The process we follow to dispose of any item is long, with many checks and balances, with the final decision being made by the full council of the appropriate local authority. But responsible curatorship means that, occasionally, it is worthwhile to pursue that process particularly when an object is large or includes hazardous materials.
Currently, there are no plans to consider disposal of this tapestry. I’m glad that, instead, we were able to find an opportunity to display it. I’d be interested to know your opinion about what we should and shouldn’t acquire and display – do go ahead and leave a comment below.
Philippa Tinsley, Senior Curator, Museums Worcestershire