Outdated Security at British Museum Raises Concerns

In a recent turn of events, Peter Higgs, a senior curator, has been dismissed from his position at the museum.

Previously, he had announced his intention to leave the museum next year, but the museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer, abruptly changed this plan, citing that Higgs’s presence was causing a distraction.

Fischer expressed his desire to find a temporary replacement for Higgs as soon as possible.

Uncovering the Scandal

The story came to light thanks to Ittai Gradel, an art historian who had alerted the museum about losses two years ago, only to be dismissed by senior leaders.

The chair of trustees at the museum, George Osborne, mentioned in an interview the possibility of “groupthink” within the institution, suggesting that some couldn’t believe a staff member would engage in such actions.

Serious Security Flaws Exposed

The museum’s security protocols are now under scrutiny, with reports of a flawed system where storage areas are “alarmed but not otherwise monitored.”

This lax security allowed individuals to access valuable artifacts with relative ease.

The collections’ close proximity compounded the issue, providing cover for potential wrongdoers who could claim innocence due to the frequent presence of other museum staff in the same areas.

A Museum Founded in 1753, but Outdated Security

Despite the British Museum’s long history dating back to 1753, questions arise about whether its security measures have kept pace with modern standards.

The idea of a trusted curator simply strolling into a storeroom and walking out with a precious artifact tucked away seems like something out of a movie, but it has evidently happened.

Emergency Measures and an Independent Review

In response to the scandal, the museum has imposed emergency measures and initiated an independent review to investigate what happened and extract lessons for the future.

The review is expected to recommend changes in security arrangements to prevent such incidents.

Contrasting Security Practices at Other Museums

Comparatively, other museums, like the Tate, have stringent security procedures in place.

Access to artifacts is strictly controlled and supervised, preventing the possibility of theft.

Such measures not only safeguard the collection but also protect the staff from potential accusations.

The Issue of “Groupthink”

The root of the problem appears to be a culture of “groupthink” within the British Museum.

While the museum has made strides in various areas, such as technology-driven preservation efforts, it lags in its approach to cultural matters.

Outdated practices, including its stance on object restitution and corporate sponsorship, have put the institution in a vulnerable position.

The Need for a Cultural Shift

The upcoming masterplan for refurbishing the museum and redisplaying its collection presents an opportunity for change.

However, the real challenge for the next leader is not the physical infrastructure but the museum’s cultural behavior and mindset.

The British Museum needs a leader who can challenge the status quo, modernize its practices, and navigate complex issues like repatriation.

Questions of Leadership and Trust

Rumors abound regarding conflicts between Director Hartwig Fischer and trustee George Osborne, particularly concerning repatriation efforts.

The question now arises whether the board, which appointed Fischer in the first place, can find a leader willing to make the necessary tough decisions to bring the British Museum into the 21st century.

The outcome remains uncertain, as the institution faces a critical juncture in its history.

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