Were negative headlines about the Elgin Marbles good news for the British Museum?
December 14th, 2023, Stephan Shakespeare

Were negative headlines about the Elgin Marbles good news for the British Museum?

Rishi Sunak recently declined a meeting with the Greek PM over the status of the Parthenon Sculptures, currently housed in the British Museum. He has been subject to harsh international headlines; received accusations of throwing a “hissy” fit by Museum chair George Osborne; and, if commentators are to believed, silently rebuked by the King’s tie.

The public are more pro-return than not: the most recent YouGov data shows that, by 49% to 15%, Britons think the sculptures should be removed from the British Museum and returned to Greece. But data from YouGov BrandIndex UK shows that perceptions of the institution improved over the last week.

Between 26th November – when the Greek PM complained about the slow pace of returning the Elgin Marbles, and just before Sunak cancelled the meeting – and 3rd December, Buzz scores for the British Museum, which measure whether consumers have heard anything good or bad about a tourist attraction, went from a positive 4.3 to a negative -4.1 (-8.4).

However, over the same period, Impression scores (which measure overall sentiment towards a brand) rose from 44.5 to 52.7 (+8.2). Reputation scores, which track whether consumers would be proud or embarrassed to work for an institution, saw a similar rise from 38.1 to 46.7 (+8.6).

Perceptions of the British Museum’s Quality also saw an improvement from 49.6 to 56.5 (+6.9), while Recommend scores jumped from 43.1 to 49.5 (+6.4).

So not only have the British Museum’s public perceptions not been harmed by the controversy, they appear to have improved. The Museum has pledged to continue working on a deal with Greece that would see the sculptures displayed in Athens, and may have come off as a reasonable stakeholder in the midst of an increasingly ill-tempered diplomatic row. But perhaps the argument around the sculptures has also reminded people that the British Museum harbours treasures in its collection – even if they’re more likely than not to believe those treasures should be repatriated.

This article originally appeared in City A.M.