We Need To Keep Galleries Free For All

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I will argue to the death that art should be free, and accessible for all.

Since the 90s, a majority of museums and galleries have been free, with only special exhibitions requiring the purchase of a ticket. Most museums will have a ‘suggested donation’ box or some similar suggestion, but it is optional – there’s no pressure to donate. Whatever your choice is regarding donations; you’re able to walk around the museum and see all that it has to offer. However, this free access to art could be changing, and in some cases it already has.

Government cuts affect nearly everything, and the arts are not exempt – to be honest they’re usually the first thing to be cut, but usually the cuts go into funding and it’s mainly artists and creative based students who suffer. Most galleries have been relatively safe, until recently. The effect that cuts are starting to have on the arts is most noticeable in the fact that a lot of galleries are resorting to charging an entrance fee.

While an entrance fee to a gallery isn’t the worst thing in the world – and I won’t try to paint (pun definitely, 100% intended) this to be as devastating as cuts to education or to the NHS – it’s still a pretty upsetting prospect.

It’s a great thing to be able to walk past a gallery and just go in if it takes your fancy. There’s no need to plan to take money out in case they don’t accept card payments, you don’t have to debate whether you save more on a group ticket or anything like that, you just walk in, pick a direction and then you get to see masses and masses of things from prehistoric fossils at the Natural History museum, to Samurai Armour at the V&A and then to Man Ray’s Cadeau at the Tate Modern. The world is your oyster, and it’s only an Oyster Card away (I really did have to make that joke). And it’s an incredible thing, depending on your stamina you can see about 3-4 galleries in one day, all for free. Britain has a huge, and incredible collection of artwork that is open and free to the public. When museums became free in the 90s they changed, no longer were they sad, quiet, uninviting places only for those within the art world, they became bright, energetic places where anyone and everyone could go.

Anyone and everyone being able to go to a museum is great. On a rainy day parents can take children and get some culture into them. You can go on a date to a museum and pretend you know something about art to look quite cool and educated, or something like that… But on a serious note, The UK has one of the most extensive, best and richest collections of art and artifacts, and it’s free. Anyone from any walk of life is able to see it, and to take away the opportunity to only those that can afford a £15 ticket is a crying shame.

There’s an argument that arises often when being in favour of museums charging and it’s that in other countries there’s often an entry charge. I can think of many museums that charge – take the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam for example – it charges €15 entry for an adult and it gets queues of people. Whenever I visit my parents’ house I indulge on a trip and sure, the price doesn’t stop me, and it doesn’t stop tourists either. The same rings true with places such as The Louvre in Paris, they charge because they can and they know that they’ll always have people going in. Surely the same thing would happen with Tate Britain?

It is argued that charging for entry is a positive thing as paying means that you appreciate it more. I can’t attest to this, because when I go to a museum I appreciate it whether or not its free, because I’ve gone into a museum knowing what it’s about – it’s about looking at art or objects in the flesh, it’s about being able to see things that are otherwise known only to you via a screen. Why would paying make you appreciate it more, if you know what a museum is, surely you know you’re about to be confronted by things that deserve your attention? I don’t think it really makes a difference, it’s sort of like saying ‘thank you for the present, but you know, if I had bought it I would like it even more’ – it’s a redundant argument.

If galleries start charging entrance, they may make a bit of extra money, but they’ll also get fewer and fewer visitors, art will return to being seen as a stuffy institution for only the rich. Free art for all means anyone can see it – we should be encouraging people with a passion for art, yet expecting people to pay £15 every time they want to go to a gallery makes this increasingly difficult. Undoubtedly, tourists will be willing to pay – and most people would be willing to pay once or twice – but soon people will resent having to pay to get into galleries- especially knowing they were once free. This will alienate people from art and art from the people.

Art is a powerful thing; it can inspire people in so many ways. It can be touching, and impressive, it can help you think in a new way, it can help you see things in the way others see things. To take this away from the whole public and limit it to only a few is a horrible thought.

To help keep art free and in the realm oi public interest, next time you’re in a gallery think about putting your change in the donation box, get that £1 map that you could reuse or stick on your pin board, reject Starbucks and go for the coffee in the gallery that I can guarantee you is far nicer than anything Starbucks has to offer. Use your local galleries as a meeting point and a place to buy that birthday card you need to buy and send. These little things can keep art free and accessible for all.

Words by Selene Mortimore

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