Museums preserve our cultural heritage. They tell us stories about our past. If our heritage belongs to all of us, shouldn’t museums be freely accessible to all? In most European countries, visitors have to pay an entrance fee. Could this put off people on lower incomes?
Is free always better? In Europe, the UK is an exception when it comes to entrance fees, as many renowned museums across the country, such as the National Gallery, the British Museum or the Tate Gallery, can be visited completely free of charge. But does free admission automatically mean that more people from different backgrounds visit museums? And how should cultural institutions finance themselves, if not through ticket sales?
What do our readers think? The business model of many cultural venues in Europe is based around footfall and maximising ticket sales. We had a comment from Jurre who points out that this business model isn’t sustainable under social distancing rules, and he wants to see greater financial support from governments and the EU. Can big cultural venues like museums, galleries, and concert venues return to their old pre-pandemic business models, or will they need more government support in future?
We forwarded Jurre’s question to the art historian Julia Pagel and Green MEP Niklas Nienaß for them to respond. Pagel is the Secretary General of NEMO, the Network of European Museum Organisations, which is the European umbrella organisation for national museum organisations and speaks for over 30,000 museums across Europe, and Nienaß is a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education. Do they also think that museums need more state support?
Next up, Apostolos thinks Europe’s cultural sector has been under pressure since way before Covid (for example from budget cuts, the rise of the Internet, and so on). The pandemic has just accelerated things. Is he right?
Our reader Catherine told us she thinks Europe’s museums should have free admission for everyone. Should museums be free to the public, particularly if we move towards a post-pandemic world with fewer in-person visitors overall?
Finally, the past few years have seen a growing discussion over the cultural sector and how diverse perspectives are included and represented. Vijaykumar sent us a comment arguing that Europe needs to confront its colonial past honestly and frankly. Who should decide what is displayed in museums and galleries, what stories are told, and which perspectives should be excluded or included (particularly if museums are free or receiving greater public financial support)?
Should all museums be free to the public? How can museums recover from the pandemic? Should museums receive more public funding? Can free admission help attract a more diverse audience? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!