Letter: Museum charges

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The Independent Online
Sir: There is no statistical evidence whatsoever to prove that visitor numbers to our museums decreased after charging was introduced. In fact figures quoted in David Lister's article "Museum's which charge lose a third of visitors" (27 November) are fictitious.

Before charging was introduced, without an electronic ticketing system, there was simply no accurate way of counting visitors. Visitor numbers were grossly over-estimated, unaudited and often "best guesses".

We are not advocating charging for museums per se, but all museums are expensive to run and none of them has been properly funded by government for years. However, we believe that charging for admission does not stop people from visiting museums. The report of recent research commissioned by the Museums and Galleries Commission (the Government's advisers on museum policy) said that "any reported impacts of charges on visitor numbers are of questionable reliability".

Only 4 per cent of those questioned in this research who did not visit museums cited admission charges as the deterring factor. Moreover, a clear majority expects to contribute to museums' finances according to use, and lack of time to visit museums is a much greater constraint than an admission charge.

Whatever the Government's decision it must provide adequate funding for all national museums and galleries, instead of subjecting them to the miserable cheese-paring of the last decade. If charging were abolished, and the revenues not completely compensated by government, the results would be disastrous. No more effective way of denying access to the public could be imagined.

Dr NEIL CHALMERS

Director, The Natural History Museum

ROBERT CRAWFORD

Director, Imperial War Museum

JOHN FREEBORN

Deputy Director, The Royal Air Force Museum

RICHARD ORMOND

Director, The National Maritime Museum

London SW7

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