Jonathan Jones - charge for museum entry

July 25 2011

Image of Jonathan Jones - charge for museum entry

Picture: H M Bateman, detail from 'the man who' series.

In response to budget cuts, and the recent Poussin attack, Jonathan Jones says in the Guardian that museums should re-introduce museum fees:

Britons have realised how precious our great collections are. The world shares the passion, and if you visit the British Museum this summer the sheer crowd numbers startle. How about turning that popularity into money? We can't let recent progress in our galleries and museums be destroyed by a cost-cutting mentality that first freezes, then rolls back, everything that has been achieved.

I think free museums are a great British tradition, but I don't want these museums to decay. Charging for entry is a better remedy than selling paintings, closing galleries or sacking staff. Might it even give visitors a keener sense of the value of some of the greatest experiences it is possible to have?

It's hard to argue against these points. For those who go to galleries all the time, an annual national museum pass, like that for the National Trust, would be easy to administer - say £30? And as Jones says, a fee of sorts would generate a sense of ownership for our museums and galleries. It would also allow us to charge foreign visitors, who make up, for example, over half of the British Museum's visitors. Please don't lets pretend that tourists come to Britiain just because they can get into galleries for free, nor that we can make up the revenue through the gift shop and cafes.

For reasons I have never understood, museum charges are seen as some ghastly taboo. If museums want to be free, they should be. If they want to charge, they should be allowed to. Here's a paradox for you: in Paris, you pay to get into the Louvre, but not Notre Dame. In London, you pay to get into Westminster Abbey, but not the National Gallery. Which is right?

It's worth noting that the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which recently increased its entry charge to $25, has this year had a record 5.68 million visitors, the highest in 40 years. That's more than the National Gallery...

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