Free museums…?

There was an interesting discussion on Radio Four this morning about free entry to museums. Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, raised concerns about the London-centric nature of free access to national museums. To be honest, I was under the impression that it is not just the national museums that are free, many provincial museums also offer free entry. Indeed, all the museums I visit regularly are free. One of my favourites is Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery which has offered free access for a while now. Banbury Museum likewise. Southampton museums were also free until earlier this year and now charge nominal entrance fees.

It is indeed true that uneven free entry will encourage visitors to visit some museums over and above others but this is not an argument for having entry fees. I have noticed when visiting another of my haunts, the Natural History Museum, that the demographic of visitors has changed in recent years. Many more people in total including more children and families in attendance rather than just obviously middle-class, middle-aged couples. This is a good thing; everyone should be given the opportunity to visit informative places like museums, they should not be restricted to those with disposable income. Far too often, heritage attractions charge an entry fee based on some rather spurious figure in the order of £6-10 for an adult. So, for a family day out, a typical 2 adult + 2 children family are looking at a not insubstantial sum and for those on low incomes, this may just be too much. If we want people to engage with heritage attractions, including museums, we need to scrap or reduce entrance fees as much as possible.