The British Museum will soon be in need of new leadership after its director Hartwig Fischer announced he will step down in 2024. The flagship London institution will begin the application process for its next director this autumn after Fischer announced his resignation.
Fischer began his tenure in April 2016, and started work on, in the museum’s own words, a “badly needed renovation of the historic building”. Details of the renovation work—referred to internally at the museum as ‘the masterplan’—are due to be published this autumn, with an international architectural competition to follow.
Fischer also drove the creation of a new research and storage facility—the British Museum Archaeological Research Collection—which is scheduled to open next year in Reading.
“In 2016, I was called to the British Museum to prepare the essential renovation of a building in need of rejuvenation, a global icon of museum architecture whose complex architectural substance calls for urgent, large-scale intervention,” Fischer said in a statement. “The renovation work itself will take several decades, but the mission I was given by the Trustees has been accomplished: the foundations of the BM Masterplan are now laid.”
George Osborne, chair of the British Museum, says of Fischer’s tenure: “He has led the dedicated staff of the Museum through difficult periods, such as the Covid lockdowns and today’s inflation pressures.”
The museum’s new director will be sure to have a busy in-tray, with the destiny of the Parthenon Marbles, one of the museum’s most prized displays, still an unresolved issue. Fischer was involved in negotiations with the current Greek government over a proposed loan-based scheme whereby the museum would share the marbles with the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
Beyond the Parthenon Marbles, calls for the restitution of many of the museum’s contested items are unlikely to diminish. The museum has in its collection more than 6,000 human remains originating from all over the world.
The museum’s new director will also have to deal with the thorny issue of sponsorship, and will likely have to confront the after-effects of the museum’s 27-year association with the fossil fuel giant British Petroleum (BP).
In June 2023, according to documents obtained by freedom of information requests, the campaigning group Culture Unstained revealed BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum appeared to have ended, bringing to a close one of the highest-profile and controversial sponsorship deals in the UK’s cultural sector. It remains to be seen who the museum will seek next to make up the revenue gap.