George Osborne has been named the next Chief Trustee of the British Museum, placing the former Conservative chancellor in one of the most prominent roles in UK culture.
Osborne will take over in October from Sir Richard Lambert, former editor of the Financial Times and former director of the CBI business lobby, at the helm of the 25-member board of directors, which includes such cultural figures as Mary Beard and Grayson Berry.
Osborne said: “I have loved the British Museum all my life. In my opinion, it is simply the greatest museum in the world. It is a place that brings cultures together and tells the story of our common humanity.”
Minosh Shafik, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, chaired the seven-person appointments committee which the museum said had “led an independent, open and comprehensive search for a leader with a global perspective, with a clear interest in culture and history.”
Colleagues of the culture minister, Oliver Dowden, former Prime Minister David Cameron’s deputy chief of staff, said he warmly welcomed Osborne’s appointment.
“He has a lot of financial experience,” said one of Dowden’s allies. “It is important for people like this to run large technical institutions to help them recover from the pandemic.”
The British Museum is planning an overhaul of its buildings and displays under a 10-year master plan that has yet to disclose costs but will require significant investment.
However, Osborne’s appointment hardly reflects Dowden’s recently stated desire to have a more diverse group of people run cultural institutions in the UK.
Dowden, writing recently in the Sunday Telegraph, said it was important that they were not “only ruled by people from urban bubbles”.
Osborne attended the elite St Paul’s School in West London and then Oxford University before embarking on a career in Conservative Party politics, which culminated in his tenure as Chancellor of Cameron from 2010-2016.
Osborne downsized his portfolio of jobs last year, stepping down as editor-in-chief of the Evening Standard and from a part-time role at US fund manager BlackRock. He has also added a full-time role as a partner at UK-based specialist financial advisory firm Robey Warshaw, which has advised on some of the UK’s biggest deals since its launch in 2013.
Upon taking up his role at the UK’s best-known museum, Osborne will face heated issues ranging from demands to take back disputed objects, such as the Benin Bronzes and Parthenon Marbles, to climate protests over her longstanding partnership with oil group BP. His appointment comes amid an effort by the Conservative government to sway opinion at the top levels of British cultural institutions.
The pandemic has exacerbated pressure on funding for cultural institutions, with lockdowns and social distancing restrictions slashing revenue for visitors, while government aid is constrained by pressure on public finances.
The British Museum, founded in 1729, was the UK’s most popular visitor attraction in 2019, receiving 6.2 million visits, according to VisitBritain, the UK’s tourism authority.