Free entry to public galleries?

NGI Director Sean Rainbird Photo ©Jack Caffrey

At the same time as the Glorious Renovation at the National Gallery of Ireland last year, another little innovation seems to have arrived in Merrion Square with no comment whatsoever. Automatic free entry to the NGI seems due to become a thing of the past with figures published in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times (1/7/18) confirming that the paid entry to the ‘Vermeer’ show in summer 2017 looks set to become commonplace in the future. The much promoted ‘Vermeer’ show attracted more than 101,100 paying customers while ‘Beyond Caravaggio’ brought in 65,000 with charged shows since then attracting not even half these numbers. The point in all this is that the NGI’s change in their long held free-entry policy is, in effect, set to become a new tax in the arts area.

This writer is in favour of a basic fee for all those seeking entertainment/education experience in the public sector. It is a more democratic system of paying towards this expense. Why should the poorest in this land be expected to subsidise the latest busload of tourists rolling in from the EU? As a matter of interest, all EU museums and public galleries, with very few exceptions, now charge for entry to public art galleries and museums. In Ireland, only a few of the larger castles, gardens and parks operated by the OPW charge any entry fee. Dublin Castle, Kilkenny Castle and Muckross House and Gardens in Killarney charge a higher fee than the basic €5 OPW charge.

Why should the poorest in this land be expected to subsidise the latest busload of tourists rolling in from the EU?

Of course, the NGI first applied the paid entry to imported exhibitions which come to them laden with the extra costs of transport and insurance. But it is most significant that the extra entry fee was added too for the current Roderic O’Conor exhibition.

Most European galleries and museums owe their origins to the need to demonstrate to the natives the loot that had been acquired in distant wars, as well as educating the locals as to what they might expect when they were sent to occupy savage lands. Irish conditions were, and are, very different. Apart from the tourism business, the NGI’s main objective should be in education rather than in entertaining the nouveau riche. There are no international shows confirmed for next year, but the gallery’s main objective should be to launch a continuous series of Irish painting exhibitions since earliest times supported by hardback well-illustrated books.

John Mulcahy