‘But museums are free!’ I hear you say.
Yes, but many nationals and mostly in London (with exceptions). I live in lovely Shropshire where the story is very different. And my experience is the same in many rural areas.
While this has been a topic for quite awhile the recent decision by the Field Museum in Chicago has made the topic come to light again.
Why don’t museums/galleries give free entrance to local people?
This is a question I kept asking when Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery opened in April 2014 after being closed for 5 years for renovations and costing £10.7 million (£200,000 more than originally budgeted and delayed by 3 years) and then (after tax payers monies contributing to the renovation) they had the gall to charge an entrance fee – something they had said they would not do when asking for votes of approval.
Fine, charge an entrance fee, but not for locals when it was their tax money that went to the renovation. Sounds like a simple but effective compromise right? Apparently not but I’ve yet to receive an answer as to why not.
This is just one of many examples where a cultural venue could do more good than harm by offering free entrance. Free entrance allows locals to become your advocates, they will promote your venue more than any advertising or marketing could. Word of mouth is still one of the most successful ‘social media’ campaigns out there – USE IT.
While I’m on the subject of non-London museums/galleries, I’d like to point out that even if the museums were/are free, people in rural areas still have a cost that cities don’t seem to have – transportation.
When in primary school, a trip to a museum might have been free (subsidized by either the PTA or other monies) there was still a cost to parents and carers for the transportation, usually around £11. Seriously. City kids (I know for a fact in London) go for free – to their free museum. Now I’m not taking away from them as I think it is brilliant! But when we hear the media say ‘Museums in England are Free!’ I continue to throw my hands in the air.
Some solutions for non-city kids has been the charmingly named ‘Museum in a Box’. While it’s a good solution, it is not THE solution. Why are rural children penalized for their location? This just puts another negative taste that lingers for years to these kids.
And just to re-assure local museums – you’re doing amazing with your resources and it’s not your fault! This is a few more pieces of the puzzle to the bigger picture that government and policy makers need to research. I’m not sure anyone has truly looked in the long lasting damage that is being caused by the lack of access to museums in rural areas and if they have if the government bothered to read the reports.
I continue to feel bad for the next generation but will continue to fight tooth and nail to let their voices be heard. Join me?