Museums and galleries preserve and showcase our nation’s artistic history and heritage for the future. They provide crucial cultural resources to inspire and educate our creative industries. The social impact of galleries is substantial – they’re not just for tourists and creative students, they enrich our communities with creativity and provide an outlet to those in our society.
Therefore, keeping these places free is essential to avoid art becoming accessed strictly by the richest in our society. In order to provide freedom of educational and cultural opportunity, free access is essential. Galleries provide inspiration to others and help to open the debate surrounding some of the contemporary issues our society faces.
Public spending on museums has decreased from £829m in 2007, to £720m in 2017. This has led to the concern that if government funding is not sufficient, it will be essential to enforce an entry charge. As a result, art will become elitist and deter potential visitors, particularly the poor and those with already limited educational opportunities.
Galleries and museums attract and inspire visitors, whilst also being a place to showcase talent. They work with local communities and provide a source of national unity and identity while enabling others to develop a greater understanding of other cultures. They work as community centres and supply a place for self-discovery. These venues provide education, refuge and a place to get involved with others.
A misunderstanding is that in the face of government funding cuts, free museums can cover the shortfall by charging an admission fee. But two immediate issues can come from this: it will discourage members of the public from visiting at all, as well as reducing the total visitors spend in the shop, cafe and the admission into paid exhibitions.
Towner Art Gallery, an institution for contemporary art on England’s south coast, is having its £614,000 annual investment reduced to £400,000. In a gallery statement issued last year, it was announced that Eastbourne Borough Council, the gallery’s core funder, which provided £614,000 annually since 2015, ‘is planning to reduce this funding by £200,000… with further incremental cuts each year towards a 50% disinvestment within four years.’
Towner Art Gallery provides creative development and support for vulnerable groups including people living with dementia and memory loss, and those with mental health conditions. British journalist, broadcaster, and Towner’s board chair, David Dimbleby, said as a result of the cuts, ‘we could lose six out of ten exhibitions a year, as well as our award-winning learning program, putting at risk everything that Towner stands for.’
The cut to the galleries funding stems from a reduction in the council’s grant from the UK government, which ‘has been cut in half to £5m’ from more than £10m in 2010. The gallery said in a statement that the loss of the learning program ‘would have a profound impact’, particularly considering that ‘arts subjects are no longer requisite in the national curriculum.’
The funding cuts to Towner Art Gallery provides just one example of how a lack of funding has a serious effect on communities. Venues considered as national museums, such as the National Gallery and Tate, are directly funded by the government, which pledged to keep free entry at those locations. However, this does not cover galleries which are council-funded in cities and towns across the country.
The UK’s national museums not only inspire our citizens but also provide reasons for tourists to visit in the first place. Free museums and galleries are an essential part of cultural education and provide an equal opportunity of exposure to others, regardless of their background and social class.
Keeping galleries and museums free is imperative to avoid our individual and shared history only being accessed by the social elites. It must remain accessible to all.