Sharon Heal: editorial - Museums Association

Sharon Heal: editorial

Cuts are putting free admission at risk
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Sharon Heal
Next month marks the 10th anniversary of the introduction of free admission for national museums in England (Scotland and Wales celebrated their anniversaries earlier this year).

It’s a cause for applause when you consider that those organisations that formerly charged have increased their visitors by more than 150% on average in the intervening period.

There is no room for complacency, however; the Conservatives have long been rumoured to be in favour of charging and, despite all their protest to the contrary, would probably love the London nationals to be able to levy high admission charges on their millions of visitors.

Continued free entry is a cause worth supporting, but the 10-year celebrations might be muted when the UK-wide picture is taken into account.

In Scotland, for example, where national museums have been hard hit by funding reductions, there has been serious talk of reintroducing charges.

Earlier this year, National Museums Scotland was forced to introduce charges for five to 12-year-olds at three of its sites – a move it attributed directly to the budget cuts.

Elsewhere around the UK, local authority museums have suffered far more brutal cuts than the national institutions, and many have felt that they have had no choice but to introduce charges.

The impact where this has happened has been swift and drastic – falls in visitor numbers of between a third and a half have been recorded.

However, it’s not just about the numbers that come through the door. The real effect of charging will be felt in terms of who visits a museum, and the position the museum itself holds in the local community.

So yes, let’s celebrate free admission but let’s also highlight the effect cuts are having on museums throughout the UK.

Sharon Heal, editor, Museums Journal

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