ART lovers are being invited to stage a free open-air exhibition outside York Art Gallery this weekend, as the row over proposed admissions charges continues.

York Museums Trust wants to end free access to the gallery, Castle Museum and the Yorkshire Museum, to help bridge budget shortfalls caused by huge funding cuts.

More than 350 people have already signed a petition calling for free access to the gallery to be maintained, and an "art strike" has now been organised for Exhibition Square on Saturday, to coincide with the official re-opening of the gallery, which has been closed for two and a half years for an £8 million refurbishment.

People are encouraged to bring artworks of their own, or create something on the day, to add to an open-air exhibition.

Helen Graham, one of the organisers of Saturday's event, said: "We very much see it more as a festival than a demonstration - it will be people showcasing their own art or being creative on the day. It's a celebration of art and artistic freedom."

She said many people sympathised with the plight of the Museums Trust, which has had its grant from City of York Council cut by £1 million in two years, as the council struggles to cope with national cuts.

But she said: "I would like us to have a proper, open, transparent public debate and a proper discussion about the situation. York Museums Trusts is in a difficult situation, we completely understand that. We need to have a proper public conversation. It would be great to have a public meeting about it, which may be a chance for other people with ideas about it."

Charlotte Dawson launched a petition on the ipetitions website, and has so far gained around 350 signatures, against a target of 1,000.

She said: "People have shared and shared and shared it; that's the beauty of social media. I do think the petition will have some effect."

Janet Barnes, chief executive of the museum trust, said last week that the re-opened gallery would be a huge asset to York's cultural life. She said its broader plans, including the new garden behind the gallery and a later improvement to Castle Museum would celebrate the importance of York but needed support from the council and residents.

The issue will be considered by a council scrutiny committee at 5.30pm on Wednesday, then by Cllr Ayre at 6.30pm.

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Cllr Ayre said he was not surprised by the level of public response, but said he did not want to pre-empt the scrutiny committee's conclusions.

He said maintaining full free access would be very difficult and would equate to around an extra £10 a year on every York household's council tax.