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Charge Foreign Visitors to British Museum and Share Elgin Marbles: Ex-Chief

A former leader of the British Museum has advocated for sharing the controversial Elgin Marbles with Greece and suggested that foreign visitors should be charged for admission to the London-based museum.

Sir Mark Jones took on the role of interim director of the museum after the uproar over thefts from its collection in 2023. Speaking to the Sunday Times, he highlighted, “Some of the buildings are in a poor state,” pointing out that heavy rain often leads to leaks in the galleries.

Sir Mark emphasized the importance of creating partnerships around disputed objects instead of fueling conflicts. “At the moment, such initiatives are entirely funded by private philanthropy. Over time, it would be more effective to use the revenue generated from charging overseas visitors to support a better-funded system of global partnerships,” he remarked. He further noted, “If we ever find a way to create a partnership with the Greeks over the Parthenon Marbles, we would need to identify a funding mechanism for it.”

The marble statues in question originated from friezes on the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple. They have been displayed at the British Museum for over 200 years since they were removed by Lord Elgin during his tenure as British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century. Meanwhile, some of the temple statues are showcased in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, and Greece has consistently called for their reunification, arguing that the marbles were illegally acquired during a period of foreign occupation. Both the UK Government and the British Museum reject this claim.

Sir Mark, who previously headed the Victoria and Albert Museum, stated that British citizens contribute through taxes and should not be charged for visiting the British Museum. However, he acknowledged the necessity of sourcing funds from somewhere, adding, “Either a major part of the funding must be drawn from taxation, which is challenging given the strained public finances, or we need to reasonably charge tourists. Why is it fairer that all the money should come from British taxpayers when the benefit is equally enjoyed by overseas visitors?”

The context for Sir Mark’s temporary leadership is significant. He succeeded Hartwig Fischer, who resigned as director in August following revelations that 1,500 objects had gone missing or were stolen from the museum’s collection. In March, Nicholas Cullinan, the director of the National Portrait Gallery since 2015, was announced as the permanent director of the British Museum.

Source: The Independent