By Jonathan Jones/The Guardian/23rd July 2015
It may be time for museums in Britain to begin charging for entry. I do not say this lightly. The British – and it is distinctively British, with few equivalents elsewhere – belief that all museums should be free is a remarkable piece of idealism. It means that any of us can walk into our local gallery whenever we like and look at a Turner or even a Leonardo for nothing.
Sometimes you have to think the unthinkable. If we want museums to prosper and thrive in a harsh economic climate with central government talking about 40% cuts, an entrance fee may be the best way forward.
And it may have a good side.
The news that many councils are thinking about charging for the museums they run may seem like shocking news. In reality it is much less shocking than some of the other solutions councils have come up with to fund shortfalls. I am not upset by this proposal. No – what upset me was Northampton Council selling its statue of Sekhemka, a 4,000-year-old ancient Egyptian masterpiece it was lucky enough to own. This week the council said it would gladly sell it again. It ought to be ashamed. Selling this statue – for £16m – was a betrayal of every Northamptonshire child’s education, as well as an insult to the intelligence of everyone who lives there.
So wait. What if, instead of selling off great works of art, councils charged for admission? What harm would that do to education and public access? None. People would pay the entrance. School trips would go on, as they do now.
To be clear, charging must never replace public funding: it should be a supplement to it, and in no way is an excuse for cuts. Smaller museums around the country may always have to remain free because they simply don’t have the numbers to make entrance fees useful. But as I say this is about enhancing public funding and not replacing it – France both charges for museums and proudly gives them public money. Read More