V&A director attacks 'silly' donations

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The Independent Online
The director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Dr Alan Borg, yesterday described the museum's system of asking visitors for voluntary donations as "silly", claiming it just made people feel uncomfortable and did not raise revenue efficiently.

As revealed in the Independent yesterday, Dr Borg wants to end this system, and is an advocate of compulsory charges. At a meeting with journalists he spelt out the enormous sums the museum now needs, claiming that most of its 144 galleries were sub-standard.

Dr Borg took over as director of the V&A from Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll last month. He has already made changes to the management system she introduced. "I have removed one layer of management," he said. "One effect of that has been to bring the curators closer to the centre."

He added that millions needed to be spent on bringing the museum up to a proper standard. "We have got galleries which to my mind are a disgrace to a national museum," he said.

"The British art and design galleries are poor. We haven't got an education centre, which is amazing for a place that was set up with a remit of education. Some galleries are appallingly displayed, one has been closed for living memory. The Islamic gallery is appalling. The Henry Cole wing galleries are a disgrace. The majority of galleries need upgrading, from very serious upgrading to making sure everything has a label. The ceramics galleries are very poorly displayed with labels that go back to before the war."

On the question of charging, Dr Borg, who introduced admission charges at the Imperial War Museum, said he did not have a specific figure in mind, but added: "It is not a question of affordability." Referring to gallery closures, he said: "I would rather have an entrance charge which could keep the galleries open." He added that the museum, which receives a pounds 30m grant from government, was moving towards a deficit.

In an article to be published in Antique Collector, Dr Borg says that the majority of people who visit the V&A "could afford to pay a pounds 10 entrance fee if they had to". At present visitors are asked to give a pounds 4.50 donation.

It will be up to the trustees, headed by Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, the former Cabinet Secretary, to decide whether to bring in compulsory admission charges. Dr Borg said the voluntary system was silly and made people feel uncomfortable and he would prefer to remove the voluntary charges.

Meanwhile, the V&A is planning to renew its premises by launching an architectural competition for a pounds 40m building on part of its site. It will apply for up to pounds 20m of millennium funding for the project.

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