MA warns of danger of introducing admission charges at free museums

Patrick Steel, 24.08.2010
Introducing charges could see visitor numbers fall
Speaking on BBC Gloucestershire, incoming MA president Vanessa Trevelyan said: “I worked at the V&A when they were free and they brought in a charge and their visitor numbers fell by 40 per cent, and that’s a fairly standard percentage fall if you’re introducing a charge to a museum that’s hitherto been free.”

Her comments follow an announcement that Gloucester City Council will ask its museum service to find around 20 per cent of savings, with the City Museum and Art Gallery’s annual grant reduced from £1m to £800,000, and is “actively considering” admission charges for it and the Folk Museum.

Paul James, the leader of Gloucester City Council, said: “Charging for admission is something that we are looking at. It is an option that is still on table along with other options. There will be a report in cabinet in October. It is something we wish to avoid if possible, but with the scale of savings required across the range of council activities it is something that we are actively considering.”

Trevelyan added: “There are some savings that one can implement quickly but if you are looking at major cuts like 20 per cent then you are looking at reengineering the service: staffing cuts which place your collections at risk; cutting services, which then is very disappointing for the public and, as we’ve heard, footfall is up over the past year; you’re looking at eroding your ability to earn more income, so it is a difficult process to go through and a dispiriting one for all museums I think.”

To hear the full interview, please click here

(Vanessa Trevelyan is interviewed at 1.04)


Mark Taylor discusses free entry to museums on the Today programme, Radio 4

To hear this discussion, please click here


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MA Member
27.10.2010, 18:24
The question of admission charges is a sticky one. I was involved in introducing them for the specific and unusually ring-fenced purpose of boosting resources for the service, and not for 'savings', but the end product was a disaster in public terms despite geneuine improvements we achieved through the income. There are still people who won't go, long after charges were dropped. Perhaps more important though is the underlying inference or implication that museums are their displays - and moreover that what is not exhibited is worthless or jealously held by curators for their own pleasure. Museums are more than their displays, and, as a percentage of the cost, those displays are relatively small as a rule, so charging for admission is always likely to have an adverse effect for the majority (and I accept that there are a few that are not in this group).
We have to assume that governments of whatever persuasion consider that our museums should be free if they continue to back the nationals, so we should not simply accept the imposition of charges that will alienate the public.
Vanessa, Director, Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service
MA Member, MJ Subscriber, MP Subscriber
20.10.2010, 10:44
Far from lambasting museums for thinking of charging what I was aiming to communicate was that museums which have hitherto been free face an uphill struggle when introducing a charge. They need to demsonstrate that they are offering something different that justifies a charge if they are not to suffer a huge reduction in visitor numbers. My own museum service charges for admission so I do appreciate the economic environment that we all operate in. Funding and governing bodies need to know that introducing an admisison charge is not a quick fix for a budget deficit, and their musuems might need extra capital investment in order to make them attractive propositions compared to other charging heritage attractions.
MA Member
15.10.2010, 13:47
Totally disagree with Trevelyan's statement. Museums must become relevant and of 'value' in the entertainment and wider cultural world - free does not always denote popular!

As well as this, it is fine for National Museums, who are heavily supported by DCMS and have brand value behind them (although not forgetting that special exhibitions can carry large admission costs - eg £10 for a current special exhibiton at V&A).

If a museum has the only options of service reduction, or pricing structures, then surely pricing is better than having a service operating behind closed doors?

We have had well over a decade of massive changes to the way museums work and 'sell' themselves, the flip side of this must be that the sector has created 'worth' and 'value' and after 10 years of promoting museums and their benefits/appeal, people should be expected to begin to support them with real money.

This doesn't mean that 'everyone' should have to pay, or that it needs to price people out, but a pricing strategy should not be seen as detremental or restrictive based on the experience of one museum and one museum professional.

THIS is one of the areas that the MA should be supporting the regions on, not lambasting us for not conforiming to what Nationals do.
26.08.2010, 09:30
I have quite strong feelings about charging the public for access to national collections. It's a bit like charging people to withdraw their own money from cash machines. But in the face of drastic budget cuts, cash has got to come from somewhere, if collections are to continue to be protected, added to and made accessible. Perhaps a suggested donation option would work - where visitors have to get a ticket to enter, but payment is not compulsory and donations actively encouraged? That way entry needn't be prohibitively expensive and museums remain accessible to all social groups.