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Official u-turn over Tate's museum status

MLA director apologises as Tate reserves right to decide over national accreditation—without loss of privilege

Following our report that the Tate is not an accredited museum with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and that this could result in the loss of certain privileges, such as access to Acceptance in Lieu acquisitions, the MLA has implemented a policy u-turn. This is revealed by papers released to The Art Newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act.

On 5 October 2005 MLA official Emmeline Leary had written to Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota, pointing out that the gallery had received £38.8m worth of art in the past 20 years under Acceptance in Lieu tax arrangements. Ms Leary added: “Allocations under this scheme would no longer be made if Tate were to cease to be Registered and, in due course, Fully Accredited [as a museum].”

The Art Newspaper went to press on 21 February 2006 with a report pointing out that Tate was not accredited as a museum, and would therefore lose out on Acceptance in Lieu acquisitions (March 2006, pp1, 25). The following day the issue was raised with a representative of the Acceptance in Lieu Panel, who was indignant to discover that AIL was being used as a “stick” to force museums to seek accreditation. This led to a major row within MLA.

On 24 February MLA director Gina Lane wrote to Sir Nicholas, referring to The Art Newspaper’s inquiries. She apologised for their letter of 5 October and withdrew the earlier threat to withhold Acceptance in Lieu allocations. On 6 March Sir Nicholas replied, noting that there had been a “complete change” in official policy.

This means that Tate will now be free to decide whether to join the MLA museum accreditation scheme. It is only likely to do so if the main obstacle is removed, which concerns procedures on deaccessions. Tate wishes to reserve the right to dispose of works by living artists, in order to upgrade their representation in the collection, but at present this is not possible under MLA rules. Until there is a change, Tate is likely to remain the only nationally-funded museum which is not accredited by MLA.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Official u-turn over museum status'