David Lister: Keep our museums and galleries free

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Free admission to national museums and art galleries is a jolly good thing and people who get in free are very happy with the situation.

This piece of what we call in the trade "not terribly newsworthy" research was released this week by the National Art Fund, the country's leading independent art charity. It pointed out that attendances have more than doubled at previously charging museums since free admission was introduced in 2001, and the public felt a greater sense of ownership of these institutions.

I couldn't help but wonder why this research was being undertaken now. It's not the 10th anniversary of free admission. It's the eighth, or the seventh and a half to be precise. It's a funny time to trumpet the virtues of free admission. Unless, of course, there are worries that, seven and a half years in, there is a bit of a belated backlash.

It does seem that there is. Recently on the BBC's Today programme and in the press, Sir Simon Jenkins, who is chairman of the National Trust as well as a mere journalist, has been the leading voice of the doubters, questioning why the museums and galleries are free, when other arts institutions are not. Certainly the main response of the museums – that free admission has increased and broadened the audience – does provoke the response in turn that the National Theatre and Royal Opera House would also broaden their audiences if they were free.

This paper played a leading part in the campaign for free admission in 2001, and there is no doubting that it has been a huge success. But, perhaps flushed by that success, the national museums and galleries have become a little complacent, and could take the opportunity of this apparently important seventh and a half anniversary to win over the remaining doubters.

For a start it's more than faintly absurd that admission is free for visitors to the Tate in London, but not for visitors to the Tate in St Ives. I'm told that this is because the Tate owns its London buildings but not the St Ives building, and has to pay rent on it. Not good enough. Free admission is free admission. The good people of Cornwall are not second-class citizens.

Then there are those charging exhibitions that take place in the free museums and galleries. It's fair that there should be charges for temporary shows. But have you looked at the prices? They are around £11, with only the most minimal discounts for students and pensioners. That is rather more expensive than those of us who campaigned for free admission envisaged.

Perhaps at this seven-and-a-half-year moment it's worth taking stock, proclaiming the fact that visitor numbers at previously charging museums have more than doubled from 7.2 million to 16 million, but also saying that free admission for an arts institution means free admission for all of its outposts too, and £5 should be the admission charge to a temporary exhibition.

The national museums and galleries also have to explain why they are a special case – that one can visit the same art gallery repeatedly and for quite short periods, and that the treasures on offer are owned by the nation. With the approach of several years of cuts in the arts, and the stirrings of dissent about free admission, museum directors need to refine their arguments and, more importantly, end the anomalies that can make a visit to a free museum an expensive day out.

All the world's a festival stage

If you like this lot, as they say on Amazon, you are going to like that lot. I reckon that if you like the glorious harmonies and memorable melodies of Fleet Foxes, pictured, you are going to like the glorious harmonies and memorable melodies of the Magic Numbers. I even did a little research and, sure enough, found that fans of one band tended to be fans of the other.

I was looking forward to catching both at the Hard Rock Calling festival in Hyde Park last weekend. So may I offer my ironic congratulations to the scheduler, who programmed the two bands to play their sets at precisely the same time on different stages. Please, someone, enlighten me about the thought process that goes into multi-stage programming at festivals. Having a number of stages is one of the joys, but when you get a piece of programming like that, you do get a little nostalgic for the days of just one stage.

Wherefore art thou?

There are few better places to spend hot summer evenings than watching Shakespeare in the open air at Shakespeare's Globe. I've seen two productions this season, a delightful As You Like It and a less memorable, but still enjoyable, Romeo and Juliet. One striking thing about the latter was the programme note for the actress playing Juliet, Ellie Kendrick. It began: "Ellie is currently on her gap year before going to study English literature at Cambridge."

Actually, Miss Kendrick has had a number of TV parts including playing Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank. But I prefer the way that the Globe has phrased it. What a great gap year job. I suspect that Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe's artistic director, could now be inundated with applications from school leavers wishing to have something special on their CV under the heading Gap Year. He may have more teenagers than he knows what to do with. Perhaps he should programme Antony and Cleopatra next year.

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