Visitor numbers to York Art Gallery fall 100K below expectations in first year of charging

Photograph: Richard McDougall
17 Aug 2016 @ 7.41 pm
| News

This has been a good year for York Art Gallery.

The gallery’s radical £8 million renovation, which increased the display space by 60% and launched the Centre for Ceramic Art, was widely lauded.

Critics from the Guardian to the New York Times heralded the gallery after its reopening on August 1, 2015, following a two-and-a-half year revamp.

The gallery went on to be named runner-up in the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award 2016, and its staff were photographed by British portrait and fashion photography Rankin.

Lorna Hogger, assistant curator of art, and Hannah Savage, welcome team leader, celebrate the gallery becoming a finalist in the Art Fund Museum of the Year
Lorna Hogger, assistant curator of art, and Hannah Savage, welcome team leader, celebrate the gallery becoming a finalist in the Art Fund Museum of the Year

All this good news must be particularly pleasing for owners the York Museums Trust – considering the ominous start.

Its decision to introduce admission charges for all caused a storm when it was revealed in April 2015, with some in York threatening boycotts.

And now the impact of that decision can be seen in the visitor numbers for its first year back.

Fallen short

The revamped gallery. Photograph: Giles Rocholl
The revamped gallery. Photograph: Giles Rocholl

Despite the imposition of a £7.50 entrance charge for adults – or unlimited admission via the YMT Card – the trust predicted a big rise in numbers.

But the opposite has happened.

The figures for the last full year it was open before the renovation – April 2011 to April 2012 – showed 226,404 visitors to York Art Gallery, when it was still free to city residents.

That was an average of 18,867 per month.

However, last April the trust told YorkMix that they were forecasting 190,000 visitors through the doors in just the first eight months of the Art Gallery reopening.

That would have seen an average of 23,750 visitors through the doors each month between August 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016.

York Art Gallery visitor numbers

DateVisitorsAv visitors
per month
Apr 2011-Apr 2012226,40418,867
Aug 1, 2015-
Mar 31, 2016 (predicted)
190,00023,750
Aug 1, 2015-July 31, 2016 (actual)91,8967,658

In fact official figures show there were 91,896 visitors to York Art Gallery in the whole of the first year since it reopened on August 1 2015.

That’s 100K less than the trust forecast for the first eight months – and 134K less than in its last full year without the admission fees.

And, at an average of 7,658 visitors a month, it is 16,092 fewer than predicted.

‘It was aspirational’

The art gallery team captured in this portrait by Rankin. L-R: Laura Turner (Senior Curator of Art and Science); Reyahn King (Chief Executive); Helen Walsh (Curator of Ceramics); Charlotte Kindesjo (Head of Communications); Clare Twomey (Artist); Michael Woodward (Chief Operating Officer); Alison Pringle (Gardens Manager)
The art gallery team captured in this portrait by Rankin. L-R: Laura Turner (Senior Curator of Art and Science); Reyahn King (Chief Executive); Helen Walsh (Curator of Ceramics); Charlotte Kindesjo (Head of Communications); Clare Twomey (Artist); Michael Woodward (Chief Operating Officer); Alison Pringle (Gardens Manager)

Lee Clark, trust communications and evaluation manager, said of the eight-month visitor forecast: “That was a hugely ambitious target.

“It was aspirational – something we hoped would happen.”

He said the trust did not base their financial forecasts or budgets on this predicted visitor figure.

Lee added: “It’s still a target, but it’s now a long-term target.”

He also pointed out that when the gallery last charged, prior to the creation of York Museums Trust, the 2001/2002 annual number of visitors was 47,625.

YMT Card success

By contrast, sales of the York Museums Trust card – which gives free entry to York Castle Museum, the Yorkshire Museum & Gardens and York Art Gallery all year round – had surpassed their expectations.

They have just sold the 20,000th YMT card this year, and one in 15 eligible York residents has bought one.

“We are delighted to have such significant backing by residents and would like to thank them for their continued support,” Lee said.

He added that the trust hopes to build on the first year’s art gallery visitor numbers “as more people see the exciting programme and buy into the YMT card”.

The YMT card costs £22, or £20 on direct debit. Or you can get the card for £11, or £10 with direct debit, if you have a York council tax bill or student ID.

Children under 16 get into York Art Gallery for free with a paying adult. And 17-24 year olds from York, or anyone on income related benefits from the city, can get a free YMT Card.