Published  11/12/2001

British Museum secures treasure

British Museum secures ‘treasure’

The government’s decision to appoint Neil MacGregor as Director of the British Museum

The government’s decision to appoint Neil MacGregor, successful Director of the National Gallery, London, to the even more prestigious post of Director of the British Museum, is wise. Known as ‘a national treasure’ for his brilliant curatorship of the National Gallery over the past 15 years, MacGregor was the obvious choice. It could be that the ever-canny MacGregor secured agreement from Her Majesty’s Government to reduce — or even write off — the massive 3 million debt accumulated at the British Museum as a condition of moving in.
Mr MacGregor joins at the height of his career. The British Museum has recently received the resignation of the first Managing Director of the Museum, Suzanna Taverne. She had expressed doubt as to whether Peter Scott, the Chairman of the British Museum, could find the ‘scholar-director with great management ability’ whom they sought. In a swipe at the value of scholarship, she had questioned whether that quality was the defining aspect. Taverne, a city shooting star with experience at Saatchi and Saatchi, Pearson’s and in banking, still failed to understand that, as in MacGregor’s case, scholarship is simply a quid pro quo: an underlying quality which can be developed by high managerial talent and diplomacy into an unbeatable combination. MacGregor has accompanied such talent with a rare degree of balanced professionalism and unselfish dedication. Unlike other current superstar curators, he has the rare skill of directing attention to the institution itself rather than the director.

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