M&H Show 2011 - Who Owns Your Collections


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Presentation by Alex Dawson looking at the legal status of ownership of Collections and the implications of different forms of governance model.

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M&H Show 2011 - Who Owns Your Collections

  1. 1. Who owns your collections?Alex DawsonCollections Trust
  2. 2. The journey – where I started• Last two months working on a new publication for the Collections Trust• Collections and Governance: a practical guide -Different types of governance model, including Charitable Trusts - The effect of different models on the ownership, acquisition & stewardship of collections - How to approach the transition to a new governance model with confidence - Identifying and exploiting new income streams from your collections
  3. 3. The journey – where I started• This presentation – opportunity to discuss my findings (so far) with you• Where I started……… - as a curator and advisor - who had accepted 100s (1,000s?) of objects into collections of many different types, and into 4 museums with very different governance structures - believed I was conferring a certain status onto the object as a result of accessioning it into the collection – a permanent status connected to governance? Acts of Parliament? Trust Deeds?
  4. 4. The journey – where I started“in perpetuity” “in trust” “for the nation” and of course “strong presumption against disposal”
  5. 5. The context• Talking about ownership – inextricably bound up with the powers of disposal• Recent thinking about “freeing up” collections - recently revised MA Ethics of Disposal - Nick Merriman, National Gallery yesterday, role of “financially motivated disposal” - the “lifecycle of a museum object”
  6. 6. The context of the journeyMA Ethics of Disposal• Pre-amble - “Collections need to evolve in response to the needs of today’s society and to stop them becoming a burden on the collecting institution. In certain instances disposal of objects may be necessary.”and digging a little deeper into the guidelines• Under the Making the Decision to Dispose checklist…“ensure the museum is legally able to remove the item”
  7. 7. So……I had:• A publication to write• Preconceptions about the relationship between governance and collections• Changing context surrounding the permanence of collections• Thanks to Adrian Babbidge, Egeria Heritage Consultancy
  8. 8. Some museum governance structures• The charities• The Parliamentary Trusts• The local authority museums
  9. 9. The charities• Mainly found in the independent sector – although recently local authority museum services are seeking to establish charitable trusts – eg Wakefield, Carlisle and Worcester• Unincorporated Associations• Charitable Trusts• Charitable Companies limited by guarantee
  10. 10. Topsham Museum – an UnincorporatedAssociation
  11. 11. Unincorporated AssociationsTopsham is an Unincorporated Association:• A group of individuals who have come together for a purpose• Topsham has a charitable purpose and is therefore also registered with the Charity Commission• Unincorporated• Governed by a management committee who runs the organisation on behalf of the members• Governing document – a Constitution
  12. 12. Unincorporated AssociationsBUT – the Unincorporated Association is not a legal body (its unincorporated), and therefore it cannot:• Start a legal action• Employ people• Borrow money• Enter into contracts in its own name
  13. 13. Unincorporated Associations – the collections• At Topsham the collections are the property of “holding Trustees”
  14. 14. The Charitable TrustThe characteristics of a charitable trust are:• Its an unincorporated body – no separate legal identity• Assets are held and managed by a body of trustees for the benefit of the beneficiaries• The trustees take full liability for all contractual and financial responsibilities• Governed by Board of Trustees, governing document is a Trust Deed• Regulated by the Charity Commission
  15. 15. The Charitable Trust – the collections• The Trustees hold the collections on trust• A Trust Deed – or Declaration of Trust may set up a “special trust” status for the collections or part of the collections
  16. 16. Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee• Incorporated body – limited liability for trustees• A legal entity with full financial and contractual capabilities, and limited liability• Managed by directors/trustees• Restricted from non-charitable activity• Regulated by the Charity Commission and Companies house
  17. 17. The Parliamentary Trusts1753 the British Museum Act“a Museum or collection may be preserved and maintained not only for the inspection and entertainment of the learned and curious, but for the general use and benefit of the public”
  18. 18. The Parliamentary Trusts• Corporations with a legal personality• Not regulated by the Charity Commission – “exempt”• Funded by government not controlled by it• Trustees acting independently from Parliament• Disposal regulated by Act of Parliament
  19. 19. The local authorities• 1845 the Museums Act allowed local authorities to levy a rate to finance local museums• A Local Council is a body corporate with a legal personality with perpetual succession and a name.
  20. 20. To summarise…….the organisations • Unincorporated Associations Charities • Charitable Trusts Exempt • Parliamentary trusts charities • University museums Corporate • Local authority museums • Local authority museum services bodies • Charitable Companies limited by guarantee
  21. 21. To summarise….the collectionsDifferent types of property in different types of governancestructure: • Property of “holding trustees” • “Corporate” property • Idea of “special trusts”
  22. 22. Who owns our collections?Museums own collectionsThe collections they own can be divided into two types of“property”
  23. 23. “Special Trusts”• Can exist in charitable companies, unincorporated associations,charitable trusts, local authority museums, nationals• If they are also charitable they are perpetual• Can be created on acquisition – by agreement with the donor• Can be created by a Trust Deed• Can be created under an Act of Parliament• Can be acquired along with other collections
  24. 24. “Special Trusts” and “Everything Else”
  25. 25. “Last man standing” – Wedgwood Museum
  26. 26. The journey – where I ended up• Most collections fall outside the “special trust” status which means there is no legal bar to their disposal• The “in trust” status that puts a legal hold on disposal is actually quite unusual• The governance structure is important for the collections but it is not the primary mechanism for ensuring that collections are kept together• The governance structure particularly the charitable structure is more important for allowing independence and freedom to generate income
  27. 27. So what does hold collections together?• Ethical codes and standards• Good curatorial practice – Knowing the status of your collections – Good organisational policies, processes and record keeping• The community that cares about them
  28. 28. What about the implications for curatorialpractice?• Clarity about the status of collections• The dialogue we have with donors and users of our collections
  29. 29. Case Studies please!!• A Charitable Company limited by guarantee• An example of a “special trust” particularly one held as part of a larger collectionalex@collectionstrust.org.uk01600 780275