Do Art Galleries Cost Too much?

There is no doubt that public art comes at a price. But when this price leaves you little change from £100 for a family day-out, are we costing young people more than just their creative development and community engagement? Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, doesn’t seem to think so. After a backlash of criticism following the ticket fees of the Pink Lloyd show and Monet exhibition (costing just short of £25), Hunt has spoken out in the defence of rising ticket prices, saying that the art world should not be held responsible for people’s lack of engagement but in fact the new school qualifications which deprive students of important art studies should.

If we think about art for what it really is, and compare it to the other popular hobbies and activities people enjoy in their spare time, essentially visiting a gallery is a form entertainment so why should this come at a low cost? Don’t we happily pay £10 to sit in a large room with 50+ other people when we could just watch the film at home? And the same can be said for football; why spend hundreds of pounds for a one-off 90-minute game of sport. And the answer is the same for any paying activity: because we as a nation relish in the atmosphere and live experience of an event. That being said, we do run the risk of creating an elitist and exclusive environment in which art fans simply cannot afford to participate in what they love.

Art is, and always has been, about community. However, our current economic climate doesn’t seem to be able to allow people from all socioeconomic backgrounds to engage with the art world and this will consequently have negative effects for those unable to visit diverse and creative spaces. In setting the prices outrageously high, the idea that art is an elitist and exclusive community continues to perpetuate society. A young child may be immensely talented but if never shown where such creativity can lead, might never fulfil their full potential. Art is necessary for one’s creativity and imagination and allows us to delve into new, unexplored worlds.

The rise of social media clearly also has effects on the way people view art. With everything now at our fingertips, we can reach art in new ways and arguably have become lazy to exploring new forms. If people want to see the work of any artist a quick google search saves them a lot of time and effort of actually going to a gallery. This, along with rising ticket prices, will surely discourage many crowds and ultimately impact the survival of the art community.

Hunt’s statements supporting the rising costs clearly come from a privileged position, being that he is the V&A’s director and therefore conscious of the negative impact such prices will have. He also explained how the prices of exciting exhibitions won’t act as a deterrent, saying ‘it seems to me that if you’re putting on something that is interesting and attractive, you are going to reach that audience’. And he is right. At the V&A and any reputable art space, you pay for the engaging and stimulating experience as a whole. The ticket prices are there to reflect the work of the artist and ensure their works are valued and validated by an enthusiastic, paying audience. It seems only right then that the cost of an exhibition reflects the credit they are due for their great time and effort during creation. Like any other well-functioning business, galleries survive through supply and demand and since the Arts Council Funding cuts in 2010 the difficulty of displaying exceptional work at a low cost is just not realistic. The public wants incredible art and the galleries supply it, unfortunately, this means dipping into our pockets a little further than we might like.

We mustn’t forget the importance of art and innovation but realistically without government funding, galleries don’t have the resources to curate attractive and popular events for low costs. Hunt has said they are working on ways to reduce some ticket prices, such as online and advance booking discount yet there still needs to be a conscious awareness that many groups in society might not have access to such spaces.


Sian Smith

Image credit: Jerry Jones