York Art Gallery charges, now and in the future: Your questions answered

A view of the side of York Art Gallery with the Minster behind. Photograph: Richard McDougall
21 Sep 2015 @ 7.41 pm
| News

The decision by York Museums Trust to charge all adults for entry to the art gallery when it reopened last month caused consternation.

The move led to the creation of a new group, York Gallery And Museum Community, made up of residents concerned about the entrance fee.

The first meeting of the community revealed that residents had many questions about the position of the trust.

So YorkMix asked YMT if they would answer the community’s questions. They agreed – and in commendable detail.

Below are the York Gallery And Museum Community questions and the York Museum Trust answers.

The scale of the problem

1) How big is the financial problem? What research underpins your belief that charging will solve the problem?

York Museums Trust are having to remain sustainable in a very difficult economic climate.

City of York Council Funding
The Council has massively reduced their financial support to the Trust due to the current climate of austerity.

As you may be aware York Museums Trust (YMT) and the City of York Council had an agreed funding arrangement from the period of 2013 until 2018. This was that YMT was paid £1.2 million per annum in core funding by the council.

The £1.2m was paid in 2013-14.

  • In 2014-15 CYC broke the agreement and paid only £1.1m
  • In 2015-16 CYC has gone much further and is paying only £600k
  • In the period 2016-19 council officers have indicated that there are likely to be further cuts.

This is predicted to be an 80 per cent cut.

YMT’s cash reserves are depleted from £1.2m to c£500k, which is less than one month’s expenditure, including salaries, and only a third of a prudent level.

YMT’s future sustainability is now heavily dependent on ticket and membership sales.

Comparative Investment by Competitor Local Authorities
Many local authority museum services have suffered severe cuts over the last few years, however we cannot find any that now has such low levels of investment as York.

Of those we looked at the average percentage of turnover provided by local authority funding was 34%.  

Note that the proposed £300k Core Funding is only 4.5% of YMT’s current turnover and is only one third of the £950k maintenance costs of the public spaces and 18 buildings, including two Scheduled Monuments, in YMT’s care. 

YMT are, in effect, already subsidising the maintenance of the City of York Council’s property.

Future Arts Council funding
The future of the Trust’s Arts Council Major Partner Museum (MPM) funding is also a concern. This MPM money is restricted funding, which means we can only spend it on specific projects and activities.

To qualify for this York Museums Trust has to have sufficient income from other funding streams to cover the everyday costs of looking after the historic buildings and 1.5 million objects in our care.

Much of this money has previously come through the City of York Council but now we have to look for other ways to remain sustainable.

Charging entry is only one part of addressing this shortfall but it is an essential part in helping the Trust to remain sustainable and enabling us to be able to apply for the Arts Council funding in the future.

Other ways to make the savings

Helen Graham talks to a meeting of the York Gallery And Museum Community. Photograph: YorkMix
Helen Graham talks to a meeting of the York Gallery And Museum Community. Photograph: YorkMix

2. What options have you consider for making savings? What other avenues for income generation have you considered? It would be useful to have an outline of the research and options considered.

As the Arts Council feedback says the Trust has already successfully diversified the way it is funded and has reduced reliance on the City of York Council’s funding from 59 per cent of revenue turnover in 2003 to nine per cent in 2015.

It has done this in a variety of ways including:

Increasing admission income through investment in the museums and gallery.

A restructure of staff, reducing the number of senior managers and curatorial employees.

Increasing the number of weddings and events – 2014 saw a record 98 weddings at the Hospitium in the York Museum Gardens.

In spite of the additional income generated from this and through the introduction of charging, YMT is already having to plan further cuts in staff and non-staff costs of around 10% in 2016-17, reducing expenditure by c£700k.

YMT is actively looking at increasing revenue from every possible income stream, including from retail and from the cafes in our attractions.

The profit generated from these areas is currently around £250,000 – around 5% of the charity’s turnover – but YMT is looking at ways to build on this, for example introducing two retail spaces and a new larger café at York Art Gallery.

Further ideas are being explored for the other sites including the York Museum Gardens as well as creating an online shop for the gallery.

The York Venues team are increasing the number of hire options available, including drinks receptions at the gallery, wakes and memorial servces at the Hospitium and wedding ceremonies at York Castle Museum.

Donations
Before York Art Gallery closed it was free to all and YMT tried to increase income by asking for donations. Of the 200,000 visitors who came to the gallery in the last 12 months we recuperated around £15,000 – the equivalent of less than 8p a visitor.

Even with a much more visible presence of donations boxes it would be impossible to make up the proposed 80 per cent cut in council funding by asking for donations.

YMT will be continuing to seek donations and bequests to support its charitable work.

Visitor numbers

Work underway earlier this year to improve Museum Gardens close to the new gallery open space
Work underway earlier this year to improve Museum Gardens close to the new gallery open space

3) Given the evidence that charging admission is linked to falling attendance (Poole visitor numbers dropped 75% on introduction of charging) can YMT explain how they aim to combat this in the long term to ensure the future of the gallery

YMT is committed to making sure that people who cannot afford the full price, or even the access price, will still have plenty of opportunities to visit the museums.

We will continue to work with other groups and organisations within the city to achieve this and welcome approaches and ideas. We know that price is not the only barrier.

We accept that it will be difficult to persuade people to visit who object to paying admission as a matter of principle.

One point we would make is that each admission fee paid helps to sustain the service and to subsidise access tickets and free admission for others.

A key way to counter falling visitor numbers is to invest in the museums and gallery. YMT has a good track record of this: Visitor numbers have risen from 387,000 in the first full year of operation to 656,000 in 2011/12.

In the last three years YMT has delivered huge capital investment in the city’s tourism infrastructure – c£11m – in a very difficult financial climate.

The First World War trenches recreated in the Castle Museum's 1914 exhibition
The First World War trenches recreated in the Castle Museum’s 1914 exhibition

This comprises of the 1914 exhibition and the refurbishment of the second floor of the Debtor’s Prison at York Castle Museum; the complete renovation of York Art Gallery and the creation of major new outdoor public spaces flowing from Exhibition Square, behind York Art Gallery and in to the existing Museum Gardens.

This capital has been generated by fundraising by YMT as well as bequests and donations such as the £2.2 million towards the York Art Gallery development.

York council has helped over the three years by investing c£1.3m capital towards that total.

There is now an excellent programme of activities at all the sites managed by the Trust.

Partnerships with the Arts Council: England, the Tate and the British Museum have not only brought the best of national collections to York but have also shown York’s collections regionally and nationally.

The Trust’s learning support team have won awards for their interpretation and informal learning programme.

The Trust has successfully retained the Visitor Quality Assurance standard and their own visitor survey show that visitor satisfaction is consistently above 96% with an average 98% of visitors willing to recommend the visit to others.

YMT already has a number of exciting exhibitions planned for the future, including Shaping The Body at York Castle Museum, an exhibition of Imperial War Museum art coming to York Art Gallery next year as well as an exhibition on Flesh with the University of York, featuring loans from national collections.

Further major exhibitions are being planned at the Yorkshire Museum.

Despite the fact arts funding sources are likely to be cut further in the future, YMT is committed to creating exciting and interesting exhibitions and events to keep the museums a key part of York’s cultural landscape as well as good value for money.

The ‘experience economy’

4. At a time when many contemporary businesses are looking to the art world ‘experience economy’ model (providing free entry and activities in return for a consumer spend on memorabilia in a gift shop or food in restaurants etc) as exemplified by Tate Modern, can you explain the rational by YMT to move in the opposite direction back to the days of entry fees?

It should be noted that Tate Modern is a national gallery that benefits from national government funding of £400 million a year.

Much of its running costs will be paid for by this guaranteed source of income. This funding is unavailable to YMT.

However as mentioned previously YMT is looking at increasing revenue from every possible income stream, including retail and from the cafes in our attractions.

The profit generated from these areas is currently around £250,000 – around 5% of turnover but YMT is looking at ways to build on this, for example introducing two retail spaces and a new larger café at York Art Gallery.

Further ideas are being explored for the other sites including the York Museum Gardens as well as creating an online shop for the gallery.

The York Venues team are increasing the number of hire options available, including drinks receptions at the gallery, wakes and memorial services at the Hospitium and wedding ceremonies at York Castle Museum.

Council discussions ongoing

5. How do you see the future of the relationship between YMT and CYC?

It is vital that the City of York Council and York Museums Trust have a strong working relationship.

We are continuing to hold discussions with the council and it has recently been announced that the council proposes to give YMT £20,000 to fund 4,000 YMT Access Cards, which allow 12 months free access to 17-24 year olds and those on most forms of benefit.

Detail of how this will be implemented is still under discussion. If agreed, we hope that the council will continue to fund this initiative beyond the initial 4,000.

York Museums Trust strives to provide good access to the attractions we run for York residents while ensuring the sustainability of the organisation in difficult financial circumstances.

For many years the Trust has worked with a wide variety of organisations to maximise access for hard to reach groups and we look forward to building on this work with the help of the council and others.

6. How do you see the future of your relationship with the people of York?

The three paintings of York by LS Lowry, displayed together for the first time, with curator Lorna Frost
The three paintings of York by LS Lowry, displayed together for the first time, with curator Lorna Frost

The collections and buildings are looked after by YMT on behalf of the people of York who are at the centre of the Trust’s plans for the future. We need their direct support more than ever.

YMT has been forced into having to charge residents because the Trust’s revenue from the council has been so drastically cut.

With the likelihood of further reductions in the future YMT believes that going forward it needs to establish a new relationship with York residents, one based around an annual ticket, the YMT Card, which we hope will be one route to a more direct dialogue with local supporters.

It can be expected that over time this will build to tens of thousands of residents and generate several hundred thousand pounds.

Membership schemes have additional benefits in facilitating communication between visitor attractions and their users, increasing usage and encouraging residents to get involved in other ways.

We hope large numbers of residents will support YMT by buying the new YMT Card which they can get for as little as £10 a year with a York Card, offering 12 months access to the York Art Gallery, York Castle Museum and Yorkshire Museum.

This reduces to £5 a year for anyone aged 17-24 or on most forms of benefit. Children under 16 will continue to get in free. We believe that this is very good value.

It is against this financial landscape that the Trust is working to make York’s museums and gallery both excellent and sustainable and to do this we really need the ongoing support of residents.

7. What has been done since the last executive meeting? Can we see the records of these discussions?

As mentioned above, York Museums Trust has been in discussions with the Council which has resulted in proposed funding for 4,000 YMT Access Cards. Details of this can be seen by clicking on this link (PDF).

However the whole process has been driven by CYC so they are much better placed to answer these questions.

YMT has always followed CYC’s advice on the council’s internal decision making procedures and has always done it’s best to work honestly and openly within them.

This article was updated at 9.55am on Tuesday, September 22, after the York Museums Trust contacted us to say that they had put “funerals at the Hospitium” in error