Fiver-a-head to visit 'exploding' museum

Cost of culture: Principle of free admission dealt new blow as struggling V&A unveils pounds 43m expansion

The Victoria and Albert Museum yesterday announced the introduction of admission charges of pounds 5 a head from October, warning that the alternative could have been to close three days a week.

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, chairman of the trustees, said the decision was taken with "some reluctance" after investigating a series of options - including closing the entire museum for up to three days a week, or closing one of its branchescompletely.

It is another erosion of the principle of free museum entry, but will make little effective difference at the V&A, as it already charges "voluntary" donations of pounds 4.50 a head, which only the most brazen have the nerve to refuse to pay.

The blow will be cushioned by concessions for the elderly and for students, and free entry for under-18s. The museum will continue to allow free entry from 4.30pm to 6pm daily.

The move has been triggered by the V&A's parlous financial state. Its pounds 30m grant-in-aid was cut by pounds 1m this year and will be cut by the same amount next year. The museum has to find up to pounds 100m for repairs by the year 2000.

Paradoxically, it also announced yesterday that it had decided to build a pounds 43m "iconic" building in the middle of its South Kensington site, hopefully funded by the National Lottery.

The building is to be designed by Daniel Libeskind, the Polish architect of the Jewish Museum, Berlin, which famously looks like a bolt of lightning, and Bremen Philharmonic Hall. The new space - models of which show a bizarre series of slabs which appear to explode outwards - will house a restaurant, an observation point, a cafe and a major exhibition space. "There is a paradox here, and if you ask me if I think it is sensible, my answer is no," Dr Alan Borg, the V&A's director, admitted. "But there is nothing we can do. It would be entirely foolish of us to say we don't want to build grand projects just because the Government grant has been cut."

Dr Borg is known to be more in favour of admission charges than many of his colleagues, and introduced a similar system at the Imperial War Museum. He argues that it is preferable to charge than let standards fall.

His decision will come as no surprise to the museum world. In November he warned that the V&A had many galleries in a disgraceful condition and said that few of the 144 were in an adequate state of repair.

Mandatory charging will also end the present uncomfortable situation where visitors are "asked" to pay as they file in. "A lot of people are deeply irritated by this sort of charging. It makes them feel guilty and puts them on the spot in a way normal charges don't," said Robin Cole-Hamilton, head of public services.

The museum is unsure of the extent to which charges will affect visitor numbers, although when voluntary charges were introduced in 1985, visitors plummeted from 1.7 million to 1 million. Staff estimate, however, a drop of 20 to 30 per cent. That could mean the loss of 460,000 visitors from its present level of 1.4 million a year, but still raise income from its present pounds 1m to more than pounds 2.5m.

Meanwhile the "Boilerhouse" building by Libeskind should unlock efficiencies throughout the site, allowing better use of space and increased income. Dr Borg denied that the V&A, unable to foot present running costs, would be adding to them as a result of the new building. "It is absolutely essential to move forward," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy