Letter: Museum charges

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The Independent Online
Sir: You rightly stress that the contents of the national museums and galleries in the UK are the property of the public ("Don't end one of our few great Enlightenment legacies", 26 November). I would like to point out that a very considerable proportion of them, when not paid for out of taxpayers' money, was in the past donated or bequeathed or partly financed from private sources on the assumption that members of the public would enjoy free access to them.

The state has an obligation, which it has until very recently always respected, to provide adequate financing for the day-to-day running of these unequalled public educational assets. But owing to repeated cuts over recent years, trustees are now being compelled - often much against their wishes - to exploit their collections by holding the public to ransom for access to its own property.

In my view this is totally unacceptable as a matter of basic principle (and so going beyond any attempts to alleviate the impact of charging). Writing as a collector with something to offer, I am all in favour of genuine partnership between the private sector and the state for the benefit of the public. But if and when the state falls short of its evident duty I shall feel most sadly driven to reconsider my own possible involvement.

Sir DENIS MAHON

London SW1

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