Gallery and museums: entrance fees for residents

Front of art gallery

Some days ago we were waiting for clarification on proposed entrance charges at the art gallery, as discussed on this site. The clarification came yesterday and was reported in the Press.

The press release

Rather than relying on press reports it’s often enlightening to look at the original press release on the City of York Council website. In this case perhaps more irritating than enlightening, as it was a stunning example of putting a positive spin on something that doesn’t feel very positive at all. I’d got used to this kind of thing under the previous administration, and hoped the tone of these things might change. But no. I read it several times, and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, as they say.

It starts with the heading ‘proposals for greater commercial freedom’ — doesn’t that sound lovely and positive. Freedom, what could be wrong with freedom. YMT has ‘robust and exciting plans’, ooh, doesn’t that sound good. And of course it wouldn’t be complete without the word ‘innovate’ and the phrase ‘cultural offer’.

But what it’s actually about is an imminent decision to introduce admission charges which would mean that the city’s ‘cultural offer’ — or at least parts of it managed by YMT — will be inaccessible to many residents who have been able to visit previously for free (or, in the case of the museums, for the cost of a York Card).

There’s a larger debate to be had on art being ‘free’, and one kicked off on Twitter at the weekend. These things all need paying for by someone at some point.

The specific issue here is whether York residents should be expected to pay to enter the art gallery and the Castle Museum, and whether those charges are fair, and what the impact of them would be.

In other places: how Brighton does it

A while back I Googled to see how other galleries were doing in the current economic climate, and found that Brighton Museum and Galleries proposed charging entry fees for non-residents back in early 2014, despite the recognition that it was ‘a move that could see visitor numbers drop by 50%’. This was perhaps handled better than it has been here in York, as clear information on the situation was provided, and it introduced charges but still maintained free entry for residents. What has been happening in other cities with their museums and galleries? I don’t know, but it might be interesting to look or perhaps if you have experience from elsewhere you can add a comment.

The York Card

These things weren’t all completely free before. We bought a York Card to access the museums and other attractions. It was only a few pounds but it wasn’t free.

And also striking is the fact that many people think the York Card currently costs £2 or £3. It doesn’t. It now costs £5. Presumably the increase was brought in for the new financial year.

Perhaps many of us have York Cards but haven’t used them much? So perhaps we won’t really miss our ‘privilege’ of free access as much as we think?

But is it more the principle of the thing? That feeling that ‘our’ art gallery and ‘our city’s museums’ have been moved into a Trust, out of council ownership/management, and access to them is now being sold back to us?

The art gallery refurbishment funding

There are also different ideas around about how the recent renovation and refurbishment was paid for, and whether ‘we’ (residents) paid for it. The information is on this page on the YMT website:

The project will bring an investment of £8 million into York. We are very grateful to all our funders who have made this project possible:

National Lottery through Arts Council England – £3.5 million
Private Legacy – £2 million
City of York Council – £500,000
Anthony Shaw Trust – £400,000
Garfield Weston Foundation – £250,000
The Foyle Foundation – £150,000
Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement – £100,000
The Feoffees of St Michael’s of Spurriergate – £50,000
Shepherd Group – £50,000 over three years.

We are continuing to raise funds for the remaining £1 million costs.

I think this was written some time ago, so perhaps the remaining million has been found from somewhere. But there is, in there, a contribution from City of York Council. From where? Council tax? Some people think so. Which means residents have already paid a lot into this impressive-looking building full of new and exciting exhibits.

So what now?

The proposals regarding entrance charges will be decided upon at a council meeting next week. The report for that meeting (PDF) is on this link and worth reading for more clarification on the details of the various options discussed.

The Press reports that residents may still be able to get access free on a day or two a year, on the residents’ festival, for example. It seems rather begrudging, doesn’t it. I don’t think I’ll bother.

The press release yesterday emphasised that the support of local residents is needed for YMT to move its plans forward. Some residents will support it, and do already. There’s clearly a lot of enthusiasm and excitement about the art gallery’s reopening.

Perhaps an appropriate and creative response would be for angry residents to assemble in a sit-down protest outside, holding empty champagne glasses.

Or perhaps instead we shrug our shoulders, recognise that the city’s ‘cultural offer’ is mainly about providing a ‘visitor offer’, and that there’s plenty of art and culture and heritage elsewhere, outside the YMT museums and galleries, and support that instead, and make more of it.

Anyway, here’s a reminder, in pictures, of a day two years ago when the public briefly ‘took ownership’ of the gallery before it closed.

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Thanks to Cllr Nigel Ayre for clarifying, via Twitter, that the ‘papers refer to lease of York Art Gallery and Castle Museum only’. I’ve corrected this in the text.

About Lisa @YorkStories

Lisa @YorkStories is the creator, administrator, and writer of content on She can be contacted on this link or via Twitter, @YorkStories
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