Charging for admission to museum is a nonsense

Museums and libraries are the perennial soft targets for cash-strapped councils.
As political priorities go, it is certainly far easier to justify cutbacks to such non-essential services than it is to persuade people of the wisdom, for example, of closing children’s centres or reducing the frequency of refuse collections.
Thus it comes as no great surprise that the powers-that-be at Stoke-on-Trent City Council are considering charging for admission to their flagship venue.
Home to one of the finest collections of ceramics in the world, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (PMAG) should be the city’s pride and joy.
Unfortunately, right now, that’s about all it has going for it – unless, of course, you include the modest display of items from the Staffordshire Hoard.
I should say that I am a great admirer of the PMAG and view it as one of the potential jewels of our much-maligned Cultural Quarter.
However, there is no hiding the fact that the venue, in its current form, is tired and ill thought-out when compared with some more modern museums.
It suffers from having no real focal point and, to use marketing terminology, its ‘unique selling point’ of crocks is bland and uninspiring to most people.
(Yes, I’m allowed to say that as a proud plate-turner).
I’m pretty sure that privately even the museum’s staff and volunteers would accept that the PMAG needs a fair wedge spending on it to bring it up to scratch.
Take, for example, the Spitfire exhibit. This tribute to Reginald Mitchell is, frankly, an embarrassment – tucked away as it is like some after-thought.
Visitors certainly wouldn’t think that the man whose invention turned the tide of the Second World War was a native of North Staffordshire.
If I had my way we would celebrate all our local heroes properly at PMAG – including Robbie Williams and darts maestro Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor.
This is because, as I’ve alluded to before, I think it needs more than the likes of a Majolica peacock to draw in the crowds.
I know that museum bosses are currently putting together bids for funding with which to transform the museum on the back of the acquisition of the Staffordshire Hoard.
But until any such bids are successful, the fact is we are stuck with a museum which hasn’t really evolved a great deal in 30 years.
So to consider charging for admission in order to raise a paltry estimated £73,000-a-year seems nonsensical to me.
That figure is a drop in the ocean given that it costs £2.16 million a year to run the PMAG so why are we even bothering introducing what is simply a deterrent to visitors?
If, as rumour has it, campaigners have raised a decent sum to postpone the introduction of the £2.50 adult admission charge, I fear they are simply delaying the inevitable.
Indeed, that money would be better spent on something tangible to improve facilities at PMAG – rather than being allowed to disappear into the great black hole that is operating costs.
Courtesy of the Staffordshire Hoard our city has been gifted a fantastic opportunity for rebranding and regeneration.
The Hoard gives us the chance to create a truly unique and inspiring visitor experience and to tempt people into our city centre.
At present our Cultural Quarter is a work in progress but one which I remain excited at the prospect of.
How sad it would be then if an empty museum was the result of this ill-conceived and short-sighted policy of attempting to charge people for something which is still free in many towns and cities across the UK.


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