Visitor numbers double after admission fees end at national museums and galleries

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The Independent Online

Attendance of national museums and galleries has doubled in the month since the abolition of admission charges, figures released by the Government indicate today.

Attendance of national museums and galleries has doubled in the month since the abolition of admission charges, figures released by the Government indicate today.

A long campaign to allow free access to Britain's national collections of treasures, which was run by bodies such as the Art Fund (formerly the National Art Collections Fund) and supported by The Independent, ended in victory last month.

Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, said the move had been a success. "Clearly charges were acting as a restraint to many people, particularly families," she said.

"Now everyone has a chance to visit as and when they choose, be it for the better part of a day, a lunchtime or just to pop in and see a favourite object or painting. Free admission has democratised the nation's treasures, making them accessible to all."

The loss of revenue has been offset by a deal between the Department of Culture, Sport and Media and the Treasury to compensate museums and galleries that had charged for admission. Many venues introduced fees in the 1980s when the Government wanted the arts to become more business-like and independent.

Nicholas Boole, a spokesman for the Royal Armouries in Leeds and Fort Nelson in Portsmouth, two military museums, said that visitor numbers – which rose from 7,365 in December 2000 to 18,734 last month – had been increasingthroughout the year. The introduction of free admission for adults, however, coming after the earlier decision to scrap charges for children and pensioners, had accelerated the trend.

"What was once a barrier, mainly price, has been taken away," he said. "It is encouraging many people who perhaps wouldn't have come through the doors to do so."

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London recorded one of the most spectacular increases, thanks in part to the opening of its new British galleries at the end of November. A spokeswoman said the new galleries had always been expected to increased attendance but estimating the size of the rise had been difficult.

"We were delighted with the universal acclaim for the galleries and that has undoubtedly contributed to the rise in visitor figures," she said.

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