2005-10-25 - ArtWatch International ICOM Petition
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Petition to the International Council of Museums

Petition circulated by the Association to Respect the Integrity of the Artistic Patrimony (ARIPA)
ArtWatch International, Inc. and ArtWatch UK

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) has a ethological code (1986, revised in 2001) which fixes the moral duties of the museums clearly defined towards the public.

Specifically, this code favored contacts between the public and the museum personnel, for the sharing of knowledge and information, and providing access to the collections, access to documents and to information about the works of art. (Art.7.2, passages in this code 2.6, 2.8, 3.1, 8.3, 8.6 the code of 2001).

Now, the new “”restructured”” code which has just been adopted by the consulting committee of ICOM, in its 65th session last October, through simplification and generalization, has made for the disappearance of these crucial points. At the moment, these contacts and engagements are not mentioned except towards contact between the professional colleagues of the museums and the scientific and academic community, rather then to the public.  This restructuring has therefore introduced an imbalance where the public has no more guarantees of services of transparency, information and openness.

We, the undersigned, demand that the International Council of Museums in its new code complete it with a special Bill of Rights (Bill of Rights of Museum Visitors, following the ideas suggested by a member of the executive council of ICOM).  We propose to integrate all the moral duties so far recognized by ICOM and to returning the points which have vanished and which we mentioned in the proceeding paragraph.

The Bill of Rights for Museum Visitors

Introduction: The museum is an institution which is a public service, as defined by the statutes of ICOM. This charter stipulates clearly what the public can expect from the museum profession. Even though the public can not participate in the national legislation it could play a quasi legal or judicial role when the legislation is badly defined or inexistent about the questioned concerned in the introduction.

With reservations of restrictions based for reasons of confidentiality or security, the museums recognize the following rights to their visitors :

1) a reasonable museum should provide meetings with personnel and access to collections not on view by arranging a meeting or some other arrangement. [art. 2.8],

2) obtain access for the information requested concerning the collections [art 2.8],

3) know about new acquisitions, in a constant and regular manner [art.3.1],

4) get a rapid response to all correspondence and all demands for information from the museum professions and to be courteous and polite in this matter [art.7.2],

5) to share the experience and expertise of the museum professionals [art.7.2, 8.6] and to know the result of there researches [art.8.3],

6) to gain a controlled access but unlimited to the objects and documents demanded which are confided to the museum, because of personal research or some other specific interest [art.7.2],

7) there should be favorable conditions for associations that stand for the objectives of the museums. These organizations should be recognized, their activities encouraged and there should be a harmonies relationship between these associations and the personnel of the museums [art.2.6].

ArtWatch International, Inc.


2004-09-08 International Council of Museums
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International Council of Museums Revises Code of Ethics for Museums



2004-09-08 International Council of MuseumsICOM, the International Council of Museums, is a non-profit organization founded in 1946. ICOM’s Code of Ethics for Museums was first adopted by the organization in 1986, and was amended once before in 2001. It was conceived of as a set of guidelines for professional self-regulation, covering the topics of Basic Principles for Museum Governance, Acquisition and Disposal of Collections, and Professional Conduct, including Professional Responsibility to the Collection, to the Public, and to Colleagues.

The Ethics Committee, comprised of nine members and headed by former ICOM president Geoffrey Lewis, has just released a revised draft of the Ethics Code. The most disturbing change to the earlier document is the abandonment of the Professional Responsibility to the Public. The result is a shift away from transparency, and what should be the overarching interest in providing information and access to collections.

On October 8th in Seoul at the 20th General Conference of ICOM, the General Assembly will meet to ratify these new emendations to the Ethics Code. We call upon ICOM’s president Jacques Perot and the Assembly to refuse these changes, and reaffirm the museum community’s commitment to the public.

Following is the text of a letter sent to Jacques Perot, expressing these concerns.

Open letter to Mr. Jacques PEROT, President of the International Council of Museums, and to all ICOM members.

The 17th Aug. 2004


Since 1986, your Council has adopted a deontological code (revised in 2001)for its members from all categories of museum professionals in all countries, which constitutes the ethical reference in the museum world. A complete “restructuring” of this code has been prepared and is to be voted upon this coming October, at the ICOM General Assembly in Seoul. Astonishingly, this newly proposed version abandons the notion of “Professional Responsibility to the Public” and, if implemented, would
remove most of the ethical duties toward the public currently stated by ICOM.

These presently comprise commitments to:

  1. Deal with the public efficiently and courteously.
  2. Respond to public enquiries and offer the public access to members of staff.
  3. Grant reasonable access to collections not on display.
  4.  Share professional knowledge, expertise and the result of research with the public.
  5. Permit members of the public controlled but full access to requested documentation, even if it is the subject of a personal research or a special field of interest (see current item 7.2, passages from 2.8 – 8.3 -8.6).

All of these provisions, concerning vital public requirements for professional accountability on the one hand, and public rights of information and access on the other, would be eliminated and not be replaced by any new attempt to address these matters.

As presently formulated, the project states that access to objects (not displayed) and to the documentation will henceforth be limited to “the museum personnel and other legitimate users” or to “the academic and scientific community”. Sharing expertise, knowledge and results of research would remain a duty only towards “colleagues, scholars and students in relevant fields”, and no
more towards the public. (viz. prepared items 2.19 – 3.2 – 3.9 – Principle 3 – 8.10)

Such changes constitute a form of protectionism, an attempt to prevent all outsiders from looking at the museum’s activities. Those who would be so excluded in the future include independent researchers or experts,
associations representing the public interests, connoisseurs and journalists.

It is hard to see why such a move should ever have been thought desirable or necessary: reasonable confidentiality clauses already exist to protect security arrangements and information concerning private items (current item 7.3).

It would seem self-evident that, objective data about the actual state or about the authenticity of items ought not to be kept confidential, since museums must not mislead their publics, even indirectly or by omission. Similarly, documentation of conservation treatments of works cannot be treated as confidential, since museums act as guarantors for the preservation of the objects they hold in public trust. For these reasons, full access to documentation is the logical corollary of all other ICOM ethical commitments regarding the collections.

In the spring issue of ICOM News (no.2 -2004) Bernice L. Murphy, vice-president of ICOM, states that, beyond its first and traditional role of facilitator for the professional activities, ICOM needs now to “turn itself toward society” and to be sure that it “addresses and serves society”. But in reality, this new code of ethics would lead museums in exactly the opposite direction.

Through this letter, the undersigned associations and individuals, call for ICOM to maintain its ethical requirements as established in its 2001 code of ethics, and for their observance by all of its members and museum professionals.

Your sincerely,

James H. Beck, President of ArtWatch International
Michael Daley, Director of ArtWatch UK
Michel Favre-Félix, Président de l’Association pour le Respect de l’Intégrité du Patrimoine Artistique (France).