THE number of people visiting York Art Gallery fell by more than 40 per cent following the introduction of charging, museums bosses have revealed. There have also been smaller falls in visitor numbers at both the Yorkshire and Castle Museums.
In the six months since the art gallery reopened it has had just 46,000 visitors. That compares with 81,000 in the same period the year before: a fall of 43 per cent.
Visitors numbers at the Castle Museum were down 17 per cent and at the Yorkshire Museum seven per cent in the same period.
Reyahn King, the York Museums Trust's new chief executive, said the figures were not a surprise. "When any museum brings in charging, you will get a drop in visitor numbers," she said.
But she stressed the Museums Trust had had no choice. It's council funding had been cut from £1.5million in 2013/14 to just £600,000 this year, she said - a cut of £900,000 in two years.
Income from charges had helped to counterbalance the cuts and make the Trust 'economically viable'. "Without charging, the Trust would not be financially viable. We would prefer not to have to charge. But I think that everybody understands these are times of austerity."
The good news is that a projected further £100,000 cut in council funding which was due to have come in from April will not now go ahead. "We are not imposing this," confirmed council leader Cllr Chris Steward.
In a concession to local people, and following the success of the recent York Residents weekend, the Museums Trust is to launch its own 'summer' residents weekend on the last weekend in June, when residents will be able to get in free for an extra two days.
The YMT card - which gives entry to the art gallery, the Castle Museum and the Yorkshire Mueum for 12 months - also represents excellent value for money, Mrs King stressed. Holders of a York Card can buy one for just £10 if paying by direct debit. "That's the price of three cups of coffee!"
Despite the fall in visitor numbers, reaction to the new art gallery from those who visited it was overwhelmingly positive, the Trust says. 100 per cent of people said they would recommend it to others - and 99 per cent said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their visit.