Image: Curatorial assistant Lorna Frost with Grayson Perry’s Melanie, a new acquisition for the York Art Gallery, by Kippa Matthews.

York Museums Trust proposes charges at York Art Gallery

Patrick Steel, 27.07.2015
MA voices concerns over proposals
Proposals to introduce admission charges at York Art Gallery are to be voted on by City of York Council tomorrow, leading the Museums Association (MA) to express concern over the number of museums being forced to consider introducing admission charges as a result of local authority cuts.

“Core funding for local authority museums has been chipped away for a long time.

“But museums that have to charge tend to see visitor numbers decrease dramatically, so the introduction of admission charges can be something of a false economy in terms of resolving funding problems,” said Alistair Brown, the MA’s policy officer.

The City of York Council’s Learning and Culture Policy and Scrutiny Committee will meet tomorrow evening to vote on the proposals, which would see York Art Gallery join Yorkshire Museum and York Castle Museum in charging for entry. Of Yorkshire Museum Trust's (YMT) four venues, only York St Mary’s would remain free.

The gallery, which was previously free entry, reopens on 1 August following a redevelopment, and would charge £7.50.

According to the council report going to the committee, YMT will lose £400,000 a year if the charges are not introduced. “Should YMT not be able to continue to operate the museums and gallery its staff and obligations would revert to the council, creating a potential multi-million pound liability,” the report warns.

The council’s grant to YMT has fallen by 60% since 2012-13, to £605,000 in 2015-16, and is expected to fall further in the years to 2019-20. This has led to a number of redundancies, including two directors and two collections facilitators.

The council’s grant as a percentage of YMT’s overall income has fallen from 50% to less than 10% since 2002. YMT estimates it will make £3.35m a year in entry charge revenue, including Gift Aid, across all of its sites.

As a Major Partner Museum, YMT receives £3.69m from Arts Council England (ACE) for 2015-18.

“We have an open dialogue with the organisations we fund and have been involved in conversations with York Art Gallery about its plans to introduce charges,” said John Orna-Ornstein, ACE’s director of museums.

“We are not opposed to museums or galleries introducing admission charges but would expect this to be part of a broader and thoughtful approach to both financial resilience and to access.”

Nigel Ayre, the City of York Council’s executive member for leisure, culture and tourism, said: “With significant funding cuts across the arts spectrum and with greater ones expected in the future, we are working with the trust to find the best way forward.

“We need to continue to ensure that the trust is able to innovate and build a sustainable future, while making sure that all residents get the opportunity to experience York’s cultural offer.”

But a petition entitled York Public Art Gallery Should Be Free Of Charge has more than 500 signatures, with many comments on the petition reflecting York resident Jennifer Aitken’s comment: “The York Art Gallery must be kept free of charges for local residents. It must not become the exclusive venue for tourists and the wealthy.”

“The proposal to introduce charges at York Art Gallery reflects the very difficult financial position that the country’s museums find themselves in after years of austerity,” said the MA’s Brown.

“Museums such as York Art Gallery are great civic institutions, which have long prided themselves on being free and easily accessible to local people who already pay for them through their taxes.

“It will have been a very difficult decision for York Museums Trust to go down this route, but we know that there are others around the country considering similar action.”

Earlier this year Brighton and Hove Council introduced entry charges for non-residents at the Brighton Museum and Gallery, which it predicts will generate £200,000 a year.

The Department for Communities and Local Government, which funds local authorities, has been asked to model 40% cuts in the run up to the spending review in the autumn. It is not clear what percentage of these cuts would be passed on to councils.


Should local authority funded museums charge for entry?


We said charges would be introduced across all of YMT's venues. In fact Yorkshire Museum and York Castle Museum already charge for entry, while York St Mary's is free and will remain free.


Sort by: Most recent - Most liked
03.08.2015, 14:45
I’m interested to know what others think about a refund from charging museums. If the public are paying for an experience whether that be learning or otherwise but it does not live up their expectations should they (or do they) have the right to demand a refund? In other areas of life you would perhaps expect your money back if the service did not match expectations.
MA Member
03.08.2015, 12:01
Museums must be realistic. York is a huge centre of tourism, and there is no reason not to charge. Otherwise quality, and eventually access and interesting programmes will be cut.
30.07.2015, 10:26
We have always made an entry charge, and we are a local authority run museum. We do offer concessions and family tickets. We have broken even and made a small profit in the last few years. It has not affected our visitor figures which have remained buoyant and we have held our own in comparison to other venues in the West Midlands.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
30.07.2015, 11:54

Last night York council’s Learning and Culture Policy and Scrutiny Committee rejected the charging proposals and called for further negotiation between the YMT and the council.

The committee said these negotiations should include agreeing further concessions for residents ahead of a final decision being taken by the council’s executive committee in September.

The full story is available here -

31.07.2015, 16:56
Unfortunately the Museum Trust are completely ignoring this vote and introducing charges from the opening day (1st August)
MA Member
30.07.2015, 11:53
If you've always charged entry, how do you know whether it's affected visitor numbers or not?
30.07.2015, 12:33
Even though we make a charge we still have good visitor figures compared to other venues that don't. We are considered to be good value for money on the feedback that we receive. I don't agree that charges are a barrier. Heritage Open Day when admission is free does not increase visitor figures significantly compared to when we have special events on. Our local council would not be able to fund free admission.
30.07.2015, 02:46
I am not in favour of entry charges to public museums.

However free entry alone does not equate with attracting broad audiences. We have numerous examples of free entry public art museums in Australia that attract a very narrow profile of visitors. Their titles, branding, services, collections, amenities and programming are implicitly aimed at university educated people.

Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
30.07.2015, 11:50
No it doesn't, and more needs to be done. But free entry isn't a barrier to access, charges are.
Rachel Smith
Tour Guide, Robert R. McCormick Museum
29.07.2015, 18:34
In the U.S., museum visitors pay both in tax dollars and in admission charges. Nice things don't come free. There is also the question of perceived value; you're willing to pay for a nice dinner but not for a museum visit.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
29.07.2015, 17:52
I'm not pro-charges, but I do think the various articles in the mainstream media questioning why museums shouldn't charge present an opportunity for museums to remind the public why they exist and how they get their money (or don't!).

Free entry is vital if museums want diverse audiences coming through their doors. But if people can afford to pay, museums shouldn't be afraid to ask them to give via the donation box, sign up as a member and so on.

The Railway Museum in York is a good example, as it asks every person who comes through the door if they'd like to give to the museum. It's still a free museum, but those that can give (or want to) are given a reason to.

Simon Brown
MA Member
29.07.2015, 16:54
York Museums Trust has long been the model for local authorities and trusts in my view. The Yorkshire Museum has always charged, but the tickets were good for a year so local residents could pay once and then return multiple times. In light of the horrific funding situation I feel this is fair.

YMT are launching a YMT card: £20 per year for entry to the 3 main sites. This will support local people while still making profit from tourism, which is such a huge part of York's economy. I think this is the fairest solution.
Rob Shorland-Ball
Museums & Heritage Consultant, Rob Shorland-Ball: Working for Museums
29.07.2015, 16:32
Realistically, free-entry Local Authotity museums / art galleries, are no longer sustainable unless they charge for entry.
It is possible to offer free or reduced entry to residents in the Local Authority area and, perhaps, concessionary entry for Seniors and reduced entry to Friends' organisations but the basic operational costs of Museums & Galleries need earned income from admission charges, hire charges and trading profits.
29.07.2015, 16:31
There should be a drive across all these types of Museums to recruit more commercially focused individuals. There is no doubt that this would help in achieving the required targets.
There is no reason why admission charges would have a detrimental affect on these Museums if thought is given to the audiences affected.
MA Member
29.07.2015, 16:42
You're right, there should be a drive to recruit more people like this. And I'm sure it would help. But it's easier said than done. It's not an easy job, negotiating and overcoming the barriers local authorities put up to museums increasing their commerciality, not deliberately, but just purely because they work in such diametrically different ways. You need a really able person, who ideally understands and can operate within both worlds, with equal ease, but local authority museums can seldom offer the kind of salary which is likely to attract someone like that. Someone with commercial skills can earn twice as much in a different sector.
MA Member
29.07.2015, 16:14
No reason why any admission charging policy cannot be done in a socially sensitive way, i.e. free for pre-booked schools and concessionary pricing for local residents or elderly, the vulnerable and children. As I understand it, research shows that the admission price is not the barrier, and that it is more to do with the lack of interest and that is where we need to focus our energy on overcoming. The increase in visitor numbers is more repeat visitation from higher socio economic groups, who can already afford it as well as tourists. At our nationals what proportion of the visitors are tourists and or from higher socio-economic groups, gesitmate 80%?
MA Member
29.07.2015, 16:14
Ideally, of course museums and art galleries should be free, or very cheap, so as to be within reach of all local people as well as just wealthier tourists. But the idea that a local council should, as part of its core remit, provide amenities for local residents just to enjoy themselves, and/or learn something for the sake of it, rather than in order to get a job and get off benefits, earn more money etc, has long gone. I remember when my local council ran a swimming pool, and a sports and leisure centre, at minimal cost to residents, and a time when all adult education classes were free for the unemployed - such a thing is unthinkable now. At one point, bus travel in London was even free for the unemployed too - can we imagine that these days? Now museums struggle to stay open at all in the face of the most philistine government ever that doesn't believe the poor should have any enjoyment or cultural enrichment if they can't pay for it, and one can't blame the museums for feeling as though they have no option but to charge, much as most of us hate doing it.
Matthew Constantine
MA Member
Collections, Interpretation & Learning Manager, Leicester Arts & Museums Service
31.07.2015, 11:36
Sorry, this sweeping statement is simply not true. Councils continue to offer libraries, archives, festivals, parks and other green spaces etc free at the point of delivery. More generally, this question often comes down to whether you think a museum visit is a consumer activity or something closer to a fundamental right. Long-established LA museums are underpinned by a civil contract between the Council and the generations who almost always donated the majority of the collections and paid for the buildings/staff through rates/council tax. This long-term view needs to be remembered.
29.07.2015, 16:09
I'm not hugely happy with the poll question. City of York Council contribute roughly 10% of the running costs of YMT, and have a stated intent to move that to 0%. So can we really call it local authority funded?
My answer is "No if the LA is majority funding the museum". But in this case YMT have limited options.
MA Member
28.07.2015, 16:24
Yorkshire Museum and York Castle Museum have charged since they opened. This proposal is about charges for admission to York Art Gallery and changes to the free admission arrangements for resident holders of the York Card.
31.07.2015, 16:54
Yes, the museums have charged BUT if you are a York resident and a Yorkcard holder (currently £5 a year to residents) then you used to get free entry to both, as well as discounts in others (ie Jorvick Center). What is annoying residents is that not only are they starting to charge us for the Gallery but the free entry to the museums has been removed as well....although they have genorously allowed us a 50% reduction on the price of a yearly ticket.
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
28.07.2015, 16:57
Hi Anonymous. Thanks, that got lost in my research! I've updated the piece to reflect this. All best, Patrick