Vox pop: November 2009

Issue 109/11, p19, November 2009
Should visitors to national museums be encouraged to pay a 'recommended donation', as suggested by the London Mayor, Boris Johnson?
Brian Sewell, art critic, Evening Standard

"Boris Johnson's suggestion is irrelevant as museums such as the British Museum and Victoria and Albert (V&A) are already aggressively asking for donations. Bringing Boris into it just colours the question of contributions.

My view is that by asking for a "recommended donation", you actually limit the amount people will pay. Asking for £3 or so is a bloody nuisance. Museums could get more money simply by not stating a set amount.

People who don't want to contribute will never contribute but for the few who do want to give something, an appeal is worthless. Reintroducing admission charges is a different issue but I am moving towards the view that we ought to charge for entry to national museums."

Sandy Nairne, director, National Portrait Gallery, London

"Asking visitors to donate money to something they have just enjoyed is a simple idea - a no-brainer in contemporary parlance. And many visitors want to express their appreciation in this direct, material way. But putting up checking points - as used to be at the V&A or now at the Metropolitan, where it is referred to as an "admission fee" - is ineffective and mistaken.

In Britain, these are collections owned by the nation. Allowing free access while charging for some loan exhibitions is the best way to balance widening interest with earning revenue. Most national museums bring in sizeable contributions from this mixed economy model, based on having continuing core support."

Bill Ferris, chief executive, Historic Dockyard, Chatham

"Voluntary charges are neither fish nor fowl and don't address the real issue in the longer term. The fact is that running excellent museums and galleries that are attractive to audiences in the widest sense is a very expensive operation and, however laudable, "free" access is unsustainable when faced with this country's long-term debt.

A so-called voluntary donation, to successfully generate income, will need to be so heavily "enforced" that those unable to afford to pay will still feel second class. The independent museum sector, more than half of this country's resource, has continued to charge because it has to and is generally thriving - long live independence and entrepreneurial spirit!"

Tiffany Jenkins, director, arts and society programme, Institute of Ideas

"With money tight in the recession, a recommended donation to museums and galleries is a good idea. We must do everything to keep visiting free, but that is no reason not to encourage people who can to give more.

Visitors should be invited to pay a suggested charge. A small contribution, often, by many, could go along way. It's more honest and up-front than fleecing them in the shop and cafe.

The overly aggressive Metropolitan Museum tactic is not the right way forward. We shouldn't erect physical boundaries with 'voluntarily' ticket booths policing attendees. Instead, more subtle opportunities to 'support' when entering the institution could be a helpful nudge."