Letter: Museum charges

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Sir: You are right that the key issue for museums is access, but it is nonsense to claim that new museum buildings are some sort of extravagance (report, 1 December). The reality is that museums and galleries have been starved of both capital and revenue funding for decades. New and refurbished buildings are desperately needed precisely to preserve and provide full and proper access by the public to their existing collections.

Both the backlog of outstanding work and the opportunities for new forms of access, such as this museum's plans for a branch in the north of England, are enormous. For most, the absence of adequate fiscal support and, realistically, any future prospect of it, means that the Lottery is the only major source of capital and, for many, admission charges are necessarily a crucial source of operating income.

Thus, Norman Foster's American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum's Duxford Airfield branch in Cambridgeshire has both assured the permanent preservation of a fine collection and encouraged a 50 per cent increase in attendance since its opening. Its running costs will be covered by the revenue provided by these additional visitors and nourish improved access for other collections. Duxford Airfield first opened in 1976. It now has some 400,000 visitors a year but it simply would not exist and could not have been developed as it has without the income from charges. The same applies to the museum's other branches, the Cabinet War Rooms and HMS Belfast, and to much of the recent improvement of our Lambeth Road headquarters. The truth therefore is that, in our case at least, charges and the Lottery have together substantially extended access to public collections.


Director General

Imperial War Museum

London SE1