Meanwhile, in the UK, the issue of free admission for all those visiting the national museums in London and in Liverpool hit the headlines again recently. At a time when regional arts funding in cities such as Newcastle is being decimated by 50% and at a time when a popular sports initiative such as the national free swimming programme has been cut completely to save £70 million, free admission to the national museums is costing the country over £350 million per annum.
Meanwhile, against the background of an obesity crisis amongst the young, 1 in 4 families cannot afford now to send their children to swimming lessons. The warm post-Olympic glow is fading and the question is being asked, where should the country’s priorities should lie? The question is reasonably being asked: is it a luxury to offer free entry to all at these particular museums in these times of austerity? Are the national museums doing enough to justify this special status?
Although visitor numbers, unsurprisingly, are robust, fewer lower income families are visiting museums. It is the better off and the overseas tourist who are taking advantage of this ‘special offer’.
If part of the raison d’être of our wonderful museums is to offer the citizens of the UK the greatest possible opportunity to gain insight and experience of their own culture and heritage, should the subsidy be spread more widely rather than confined to a handful of locations as is currently the case?
Maybe before the roof falls in, the Museums themselves might take the initiative and consider reintroducing admission charging to overseas visitors in order to lessen the strain, bearing in mind that they make up half of those visiting the national museums. Is that really so unreasonable?
Perhaps a starting point would be to grasp the nettle and ask our tourists whether they expected their visits to these wonderful institutions to be offered to them gratis or whether it is an unexpected, if welcome bonus?