Pay nothing, get nothing


Keeping London’s museums and galleries free will cost the taxpayer over half a billion pounds in 2009. Free costs quite a lot, doesn’t it?

Of course, many who claim to value that which is kept behind the heavy doors of these institutions often come quickly to the defense of keeping them free to all. If they throw in a collection of Blairisms about social opportunity the other side of the argument is swiftly shut down. Yet most of the people defending free museums and galleries surely don’t actually visit them or they would not hold these opinions. In my experience the whole process is more often than not an ordeal. Free museums and galleries are overcrowded and under-appreciated, full to bursting with people that ruin the experience for people who value the artifacts and art on display.

It is like subsidising football matches only for most of the crowd to turn its back on the match, natter about what they are do at the weekend while doing the knitting. I oftener visit the excellent Courtauld Gallery than the free galleries. The small amount it costs to enter seems to be enough of a deterrence for anyone who usually treats such places as a creche, meeting point or playground.

So who are these people claiming that museums and galleries should be free? The loudest voices come from the politico-media types who get free invites to attend when a corporate has rented out a whole exhibition. Fine, but the rest of us would also like the luxury of being able to pay for the privilege of having people in museums and galleries that actually value what is there. Overcrowded museums and galleries are claimed to be a sign of success, they are not.

The only solution to overcoming the overcrowding of these commons is for these institutions to charge for entrance. The taxpayer would also be unburdened by half a billion quid to boot.