Happy 10th Birthday Free Museum Entry

November 29 2011

This Thursday will see the 10th anniversary of the abolition of abolition charges for national museums. Here's Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian recounting why they're so important to her:

I remember walking into the National Gallery one day in the mid-1990s. I was in my early 20s, enjoying a new life in London, and was able to duck in, on a whim, through that great portico on Trafalgar Square because the museum had not introduced charges – as so many institutions, including the Natural History and Science museums, had been encouraged to do under Thatcher.

Wandering around, pausing to drink in the glorious complexities of Titian's Ariadne and Bacchus, I had a sudden revelation: this masterpiece, this brightly burning cultural beacon, was mine. It, and all the other pictures in this great gallery, belonged to me, and every citizen of Britain. What riches, what a shared inheritance! I still experience that exhilaration every time I enter a national museum – a feeling it is quite impossible to have if you pass through a turnstile, your permission to be there contingent on a financial transaction.

It's an interesting point - being able to walk into a museum for free does give you a warm sense of public ownership. But it also makes people think that, because they already 'own' a museum, they don't need to support it any further with a donation. How often do you see people drop money into those 'please give a donation' boxes placed hopefully by the main entrance? In the Met Museum in New York, they make you line up for your 'suggested donation' of $25. Sure, you can go in for free - but you'll get a dirty look. And quite right.

Can we find a happy medium between the solitary donations box, and the enforced lines of the Met? Staff with jangling buckets? More graphic displays of how much museums cost to keep running, like you see in Cathedrals? Ideas please...

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