Free entry to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery under threat
Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum could charge an entrance fee for the first time in 130 years under cost cutting plans being drawn up by the city council, it has been confirmed.
With the council struggling to reduce its overall spending by £250 million by 2020, it is becoming increasingly likely that visitors will end up paying if they want to enjoy the museum with its unparalleled collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and selection of Anglo-Saxon treasures from the Staffordshire Hoard.
Entry to BMAG has been free to the public since the building was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1885, although in recent years visitors have had to pay to see some visiting exhibitions.
As well as not ruling out introducing charges at BMAG, the council is warning it may have to increase entrance fees and cut opening hours at other venues run by the Birmingham Museums Trust including Thinktank science museum, Aston Hall, Blakesley Hall, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Sarehole Mill, Soho House, Weoley Castle and the Museums’ Collection Centre.
A move to reduce the grant paid to the trust by £250,000 in 2017-18 and £500,000 in 2018-19 and 2019-20 is outlined in a budget consultation document published by the council.
The paper makes it clear that museums run by the trust will be expected to cover the shortfall by increasing income from other sources and through business efficiencies.
The council says it will be forced to impose entrance fees at BMAG and increase charges at other museums if fund-raising initiatives do not cover the cuts in grant.
Penny Holbrook, the cabinet member for skills, learning and culture, has resisted imposing charges at BMAG so far, but has warned that the museum and art gallery cannot be immune from the savings the council has to make.
New city council leader John Clancy has warned of the importance of the private sector and voluntary organisations stepping up to help invest further in the arts in Birmingham. He hopes to persuade the city’s universities to play a role in funding the Library of Birmingham, which is struggling to cope with an annual £1.3 million cut in council funding.
Under a section explaining the impact of the cuts on the Birmingham Museums Trust, the consultation document states:
This proposal would require the cultural organisations to develop proposals to increase income from other sources and further improve operational efficiency.
In the event that these proposals alone do not meet the required saving, it is proposed to review charges at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and opening arrangements at all the sites.
It is possible that charges may need to be introduced at BMAG and/or increased at other sites and opening hours may reduce.
The document continues:
Proposals will need to satisfy obligations relating to historic funding agreements between the council and other parties, including conditions relating to loans and donations to the city’s collections.
We will try to reduce the impact by working with other partners across the city to develop a mechanism for jointly investing in our cultural offer, which will increase the income supporting the sector from other sources.
If it becomes necessary to introduce entrance fees, in the case of BMAG, or increase entrance fees in the case of Heritage Sites and Thinktank then pricing policies will include concessionary schemes for people on low incomes, including people with disabilities, children and family groups, in keeping with current pricing policies at charging sites.
If opening hours have to be reduced, then proposals for individual sites will ensure a balance between the needs of residents and visitors, including people from groups with protected characteristics, as well as conditions of funding organisations and donors.
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