Mark Jones has been appointed interim director of the British Museum in the wake of the theft controversy engulfing the London institution. Jones replaces Hartwig Fischer, who stepped down on 25 August, saying that the “British Museum did not respond as comprehensively as it should have in response to the warnings [of thefts] in 2021”.
Around 2,000 items appear to have been stolen. Meanwhile, Peter Higgs, who had been a Greek and Roman curator for over 30 years, was fired in July and is now facing a police investigation; Higgs’s family has denied the allegations against him.
Jones’s appointment was confirmed in a statement issued today by George Osborne, chair of the museum trustees, who says: “Mark is one of the most experienced and respected museum leaders in the world, and he will offer the leadership and grip the Museum needs right now.
“We are both clear that his priorities are to accelerate the cataloguing of the collection, improve security and reinforce pride in the curatorial mission of the museum. This sits alongside the major renovation work we’re undertaking, and the partnerships we’re forging, to ensure that we build a stronger future for the museum we all love and admire.” The appointment is subject to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s approval.
Jones, who studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art, was assistant keeper of Coins and Medals at the British Museum (1974-1990) and then keeper of Coins and Medals from 1990 to 1992. He was later appointed director of the National Museums Scotland (1992-2001) and then led the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (2001-2011) where he oversaw the £120m Future Plan renewal programme.
Jones and Carl Heron, who was named acting deputy director last week, will have to deal with the immediate challenges resulting from the most serious crisis which the British Museum has faced for decades.
Cultural commentators say that the main priority for the new interim director should be to restore trust, with custodianship and care of the collection paramount. “Restitution and major renovations can only follow once the museum has regained the confidence of its public and stakeholders,” says an anonymous museum sector source.