Brexit – that old chestnut. No matter how opaque the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’ may be, it is clear that grants such as Creative Europe, the European Regional Development Fund, Horizon 2020 and the European Capital of Culture initiative may be at risk in this new post-Brexit Britain. When it comes down to it, museums (just like any other public institution) are sensitive to any social change that alters the atmosphere. Over the next few months and years museums will be asking themselves questions about how to adapt to this changed political (and economic) setting. Charging or increasing admission prices may be the solution that many institutions have to resort to, a fact which will sit uncomfortably with those who believe that admission prices are a barrier to encouraging diversity and accessibility.
However, a new report by the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) has come to the surprising conclusion that charging entrance fees may not affect the overall diversity of a museum’s audience. AIM Chairman Richard Evans has even gone as far to say that ‘charging is not a barrier to access’. The organisation has also published a guide for museums to use when deciding if and how to charge entrance fees. Using a cross section of around twenty private and public museums, the report has concluded that not only does the charging of an entrance fee not effect diversity, it also encourages higher secondary spending (i.e. at the gift shop) – a moot point if we consider the fact that visitors who can afford to pay to get in are more likely to be able to afford to buy something at the gift shop too. Another aspect that the report claims to be beneficial to museums is that visitors spend more time in the exhibit if they have to pay to get in. A bit of a no-brainer for everyone, myself included, who likes to get their money’s worth. I know this having spent longer than I’d care to admit at the (wonderful) Celt exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland last week after paying £10 for the ticket. Indeed, this is how many museums tackle the issue. By charging for entry to the blockbusters the permanent collection can remain free.
Brexit is just one in a long list of challenges that our museums will have to tackle in their long histories in order to keep admission free/cheap and visitors coming through the door. Nevertheless, however hypothetical they may seem at the moment, the holes in museum funding will have to be plugged somehow. If we believe that everyone has a right to access culture then we must hold officials to account to ensure that this culture remains accessible. By keeping as much of a museum free as possible you tell people that they have a right to what a museum offers: inspiration, understanding, empathy and knowledge.
Now can you really put a price on that?