Code of ethics: Responsibilities of museum and art gallery managers
Our Code describes the responsibilities of museums, galleries, governing bodies and staff, to each other and to the collections, as well as to the public who support, fund and visit a museum or gallery.
All staff employed or volunteering within a museum or art gallery have ethical responsibilities both at work and when undertaking museum-related activities beyond the walls of the museum or outside working hours.
Depending on its size and capacity, many collections-related responsibilities are shared with or entirely delegated to curatorial and collections management or registration staff in a museum or art gallery.
However, managers responsible for the overall operation and well-being of the museum have a key role in ensuring the regular review and updating of the museum’s or art gallery’s policies and practices in relation to the public, providing maximum access to their collections and the expertise of their staff, and ensuring best practices and the implementation of continuous improvements in relation to staff, collections and the museum building and infrastructure.
The following section summarises major ethical and professional practices under various headings for easy reference. Much is equally applicable to other senior staff with key responsibilities and it is recommended that all staff and volunteers working in museums become familiar with the Code and the principles which underlie it.
To the public
Museums and art gallery managers will ensure:
- the collections in their care are accessible to their audiences by any and – where practicable – all of the following means:
- publishing, through various means, including mounting exhibitions and displays;
- interpreting and providing information about exhibitions and collections;
- providing accurate and up-to-date data through various digital platforms;
- where practicable, making works available to other museums and galleries;
- providing access to collections storage areas;
- presenting and facilitating seminars, hosting lectures and events related to the collections;
- creating and providing materials for learning and education purposes such as school kits, hands-on collections and staff- assisted visits;
- providing facilities for researchers;
- providing opportunities for the expression of Māori and Moriori tikanga.
- accurate, relevant and accessible interpretative information is available to visitors, taking reasonable account of those with various impairments, in a variety of appropriate formats within and accompanying exhibitions and displays;
- that there is active engagement with tangata whenua and other relevant communities in the development of exhibitions and displays, education and public programmes, whether stand- alone or presented within the museum, as well as in relation to the general and specific care, management and use of collections of their cultural heritage;
- that their audiences, including those who cannot visit but whose interests align with the museum or gallery and its collections, are catered for as well as practicable within the staff’s capabilities and resources and – if unable to be met – that
- reasonable requests for information are passed to another suitable organisation or agency;
- that they determine and retain responsibility for the form and content of any exhibition on their premises and any other publication or public programme it produces or schedules, including being prepared to support these in public in the event they become contentious.
To museum and gallery staff
Museum and art gallery managers will:
- have a genuine and confirmed interest in the unique characteristics of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Treaty of Waitangi;
- ensure the value and significance of tangata whenua and all other peoples who have made Aotearoa New Zealand home is communicated;
- create opportunities to use te reo Māori and New Zealand sign language;
- provide appropriate financial rewards for the duties specified and, where practicable, provide for meaningful career paths and advice about these within the museum or gallery and/or within the broader sector, as applicable;
- ensure staff members have opportunities for acquiring further skills through training, retraining, and personal development programmes within and, as appropriate, beyond the museum, so their potential is maximised in a given role;
- provide essential training or development without cost to the staff member and, wherever practicable, encourage staff attendance at professional workshops, meetings and conferences;
- ensure first aid and disaster preparedness training is given to front-line staff, including volunteers, and that an appropriate plan which ensures museum and gallery managers and all staff are aware of their responsibilities for the public, the collections and themselves in times of disaster, is developed and reviewed regularly;
- ensure that new and revised position descriptions uniformly include reference to this Code of Ethics and to the maintenance of appropriate professional practice and ensure that staff are not required to act in a way that might conflict or be considered to conflict with its provisions;
- ensure that they are champions of ethical and professional behaviour and acknowledge the need for co-operation and consultation between museum staff and other publicly-funded institutions with similar interests and collections.
To the collections in their care
Museum and art gallery managers will also ensure that:
- there is a strong presumption that all items, once accepted into a given collection, will be maintained in optimum conditions, protected by good record-keeping and security systems and held in trust for the public and/or on behalf of iwi;
- the collecting goals of the museum are stated clearly in its collections and acquisition, access and loans, deaccessioning and disposal and other collections-related policies (such policies should take account of collections sustainability, current and long-term storage requirements and, as appropriate, include consideration of the needs of living or working collections in its care and the specific mandates of other museums in their area);
- except in exceptional circumstances, all items acquired for the collection or accepted on long-term loan fall within the acquisitions policy of the museum or gallery and that it can provide adequately for their physical protection, care and documentation;
- as well as collecting the past, collections policies look to the future and consider the increasing plurality of Aotearoa New Zealand;
- all reasonable efforts are made to ensure adequate provenance for all collection items is gained at the time of acquisition or, if not, that sufficient proof of legal title is established prior to the formal accessioning of an item into the collection;
- provision is made for maximum public access to collection items, including making data relating to collection items available; recording provenance and other related information about them through various means, written and oral; and by lending works to exhibitions organised by other museums and galleries, providing their physical and cultural well-being is not unreasonably threatened.
In addition, museum and gallery managers will also ensure the following:
- The museum does not acquire items collected in circumstances which are destructive or damaging to natural or cultural sites or monuments.
- Museums may accept special responsibility for collectively- owned material, for example, Māori or Pacific Islands items, but a clear policy relating to the trusteeship of such material should be developed, new taonga registered as required by law and appropriate agreements in line with the museum’s policy negotiated. Particular attention must be paid to ensuring appropriate access to and use of this material.
- Museums will engage with people of the cultures concerned in the development of collections of cultural property, including their reproduction in digital and other formats. All museums will recognise the rights and interests of tangata whenua and Moriori in relation to cultural property. Prior to acquiring collection items, the institution will obtain the views of tangata whenua to promote the most appropriate ownership and placement of Māori cultural material.
- No items are to be disposed of without careful consideration under the terms of an approved policy relating to the deaccessioning and disposal of collections. When practicable, views of donors or their descendants will be sought and taken into account. Policies will provide clear reasons for deaccessioning, which might include irretrievably damaged collections or items of unknown origin, or of no value within or relevance to the collection. Consideration should be given to offering these by exchange, gift or private sale to other museums or returning them to an appropriate iwi, whether or not they have an established market value.
Exhibition, research and public programmes
It is the responsibility of museums and art galleries to ensure that all research conducted under its auspices is conducted to a high ethical standard. Exhibitions and other programmes provided to the public will also reflect this level of care.
Within all museums and art galleries, processes will be established to ensure:
- research proposals, including those for exhibitions, are approved using an appropriate process; and
- ethical and legal considerations are taken into account at the initial stages of preparing research proposals with respect to living persons and intellectual property, intangible heritage, oral histories, human remains, threatened or extinct species and animal welfare.
Note: The Museums Aotearoa Ethics Committee may be referred to for advice on such matters (see Appendix C).
Museums and galleries are encouraged to publish their research in a timely way, so that it is accessible and can be reviewed by communities of interest and critiqued by the scholarly community.
Art galleries and museums will ensure appropriate fees are paid to artists, writers and other creative practitioners involved in making and providing work for exhibition or making an additional creative contribution to the presentation of such work to the public.
Note: Reference may be made to the Artists’ Alliance, Creative New Zealand, the Arts Council of New Zealand and other similar bodies (see Appendix D).
Art gallery and museum managers will avoid confusion about the role of the museum and ensure they and museum staff avoid all activities that may be construed as trading or dealing in cultural property, unless authorised in advance by the governing body (for example, in situations where a long-standing arrangement exists with a local arts society to sell from an annual exhibition).
Particular care should be taken that material covered by the institutional acquisitions policy and actively collected by the museum or art gallery is not sold directly from exhibitions in the museum or gallery.
Museum and art gallery managers will ensure legal requirements and best professional practice in fiscal matters are applied throughout, including timely reporting and independent review (wherever practicable by annual audit). Reporting which aligns to New Zealand’s Financial Reporting Standards must be ensured, both by an annual report of accounts, whether audited or not, and a review of activities made available annually to stakeholders.
Museums and galleries, their governing bodies or local authority managers will ensure that commercial activities and sponsorship enhance the museum's reputation. In particular, potential sponsors are to be carefully considered (and, in the event of any doubt, approved by the governing body or within the appropriate management structure) if, for example, their brands are associated with or connected to the manufacturing and distribution of tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, weapons or pornography.
Sources of funding and income-generating activities should not compromise the content and standards of a museum’s or gallery’s programme nor its publications.
Museum and gallery managers and staff are to be aware of and adhere to appropriate legislation in all commercial activities. This includes but is not limited to copyright, intellectual property and fair trading. Museum shops will only sell items for which legal title, provenance and necessary certification is available.
Museums and galleries are expected to apply principles of sustainability to all their operations as far as practicable. When new buildings or extensions to current museum buildings are planned, or when plant and equipment is renewed, principles of sustainability will also be paramount in their planning. Re-cycling of materials in keeping with current best standards is to be encouraged.
Museums and galleries with responsibility for human remains will establish tikanga appropriate to the care and management, including repatriation, of these (see Appendix B). Māori human remains will be housed in a separate area (wahi tapu).