Celebrations on the fifth anniversary of free admission

  • 1 December 2006

Five years ago, after a campaign spearheaded by The Art Fund, the UK's national museums and galleries dropped their admission charges. Figures released today show that visitor numbers to formerly charging museums have increased by a phenomenal 83 per cent.

The impact on the way museums in this country are enjoyed following the introduction of free admission has been enormous.  People who had never set foot in a museum, or last visited when they were children, are visiting in ever-increasing numbers. Nearly 30 million extra visits have been recorded since charges were dropped. Figures have also shown that half of all visits are by new visitors.

Members of the public can drop in and out of museums and galleries across the UK daily, perhaps in their lunch hour, or spend the whole day enjoying their rich cultural heritage. Families who found the admission charges prohibitive can now enjoy the collections and take part in a raft of new and interactive activities.

This week museums across the country have selected five of their top exhibits for visitors to enjoy as part of a short treasure tour, highlighting the richness and variety of objects freely accessible to the public in our national collections. As part of the nationwide event Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, who described the new admission figures as ‘inspirational’, visited the V&A’s treasure tour, and Peter Blake revisited some personal favourites, while comedian Frank Skinner called in on the National Gallery to have a look at its top five.  

Many objects chosen by museums as their ‘top five’ exhibits were purchased with grants from The Art Fund. These include the British Museum’s Luohan, an enigmatic stoneware sculpture from Yi County, northern China; The Three Graces by Antonio Canova, Botticelli’s The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child and Titian’s Venus Anadyomene - favourites at the National Galleries of Scotland; the celebrated portrait of John Donne, purchased by the National Portrait Gallery earlier this year through a campaign launched with The Art Fund’s help; Reynolds’ The Archers and Chris Ofili’s magnificent Upper Room at Tate Britain; and the Great Bed of Ware at the V&A, which was mentioned in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Click here to find out more about The Art Fund’s involvement in the campaign for free admission