Could the British Museum soon start charging tourists to enter?

One of the greatest things about London is that a whole host of our most important cultural institutions are completely free to enjoy – in fact, accessing permanent collections at pretty much any major museum or art gallery won’t cost you a single penny. 

But is that all about to change? Well, possibly. The British Museum’s former interim director, Sir Mark Jones, has called for a £20 entry fee to be introduced for tourists, to help fund an enormous redevelopment of the museum as well as other projects. 

According to him, the British Museum could do with a refurb – one which looks to cost between £400m-500 million – and plans ‘include an increase in space and more space given over facilities for visitors.’ 

But clearly, quite a hefty amount of funding is needed. He told the Standard: ‘The money has to come from somewhere, either a major part of the funding has to be found out of taxation, which is difficult as the public finances are very stressed, or we need to reasonably charge [tourists].’

As it stands, entering the museum is free for everyone if you want to view the permanent collections, and you only need to pay for special exhibitions. What Sir Mark proposes is that entry for all Brits and those under 25 should remain free, but that a £20 entry fee for everyone else is reasonable as attractions such as the Louvre and the Acropolis charge about the same (the former €22, the latter €15). 

But he’s not stopping there – Jones has also suggested charging tourists for entry at other attractions across the UK, including the National Gallery, Natural History Museum and the Science Museum (though as far as we can tell, none of these institutions are planning refurbs). 

Instead, this is more to do with funding a partnership with Greece over the Elgin Marbles. They’ve been displayed at the museum for over 200 years since – you guessed it – Lord Elgin removed them from Greece when he was British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (which Greece alleges was illegal). 

Other statues from the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple are on display in the Acropolis Museum, and Greece has long been calling for them to be reunited. Though Sir Mark concurs, he said: ‘If we were ever to find a way to create a partnership with the Greeks over the Parthenon Marbles, we would need to find a way to fund it.’

No mention of the museum considering the proposal has been reported yet, so plans for an entry fee for tourists at the British Museum are still way off, if they even go ahead. 

For a list of all our favourite London museums which are (and will hopefully continue to be) free, take a look here

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