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6 Aug, 2015

Feature: Days may be numbered for free entry to Britain’s museums, galleries

LONDON, Aug. 5 (Xinhua) — Are the days of free admission coming to an end at Britain’s 700 museums and art galleries?

This week visitors heading to York Art Gallery, one of Britain’s tourism hotspots, had to pay £7.50 (11.7 U.S. dollars) to enter after it re-opened following a 12.5 million U.S.dollar facelift.

Before the doors closed to enable refurbishment work, visitors from anywhere in the world could walk in through the doors for free.

So angry were local people about having to pay, there was a protest outside the building on its re-opening day, with police having to be called.

The big fear is other museums and galleries across Britain are considering charging entry fees following massive cuts in funding to museums and galleries.

Just two months ago Brighton’s Royal Pavilion and Museums introduced a £5 (7.8 U.S.dollars) entrance fee for adult tourists, though local people don’t have to pay. One report quoted a spokeswoman at the attraction saying visitor numbers have halved since the charge was imposed.

Currently there are no plans to impose entry charges across government funded national museums and galleries, such as the British Museum, the Tate and the National Gallery.

The government dropped all entrance fees across the country 15 years ago to encourage more people to soak up Britain’s culture, art and history.

But most of the 700 museums and galleries are run by local councils or trust bodies, and they are in the frontline of spending cuts. As some struggle to make ends meet, it seems more venues are drawing up plans to charge entry fees as a way of responding to funding cuts. The big fear is some may even be forced to close for good.

The Museums Association, a national organisation representing cultural institutions, believes many galleries are considering following York’s example by imposing admission charges.

Association spokesman Alistair Brown said: “Given austerity and funding cuts, York’s decision will most likely not to be a one off. We are keenly aware of discussions going on behind closed doors.”

Brown said many museums are experimenting with charging “as a last ditch measure”, adding: “It will work in places like York and Brighton because they are tourist hotspots, but in the vast majority museums tend to serve a local community.”

Dr David Fleming, president of the Museums Association agreed charging for entry was now on the agenda at many other venues that face local council funding cuts.

“I’m absolutely certain that museums all over the country are considering introducing admissions fees in order to try to help plug the gaps that are appearing in their budgets,” he said, adding the move would only be successful in towns and cities that attract a significant number of tourists.

York Art Gallery has seen its subsidy from the city council cut from 2.34 million U.S. dollars three years ago to 935,000 U.S. dollars in 2015. It celebrates its re-opening with a new exhibition featuring paintings of the city by the famous British ‘matchstick men’ painter L.S.Lowry, including a Lowry painting never before seen in public.

Whether visitors are prepared to dig into their pockets to view the work will be keenly watched by curators across the country.