New Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong (who oversees the national museums) has made his first significant statement regarding the local museum scene (click here to read more).
While certain segments of the S’pore public already get to enter national museums for free, he alluded to the fact that NOT all Singaporeans will be enjoying this privilege. He was quoted as saying “Otherwise, as we have observed in some European countries which offer free admissions, visitorship numbers can still taper off after an initial phase.”
Free entry to museums is by no means a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ situation for the powers-that-be. Take Britain for example. On the one hand, free-entry to Britain’s national museums (started in the early 2000s) is still being touted a ‘treasure’ (click here to read the Guardian article). On the other hand, the same newspaper asserted that British national museums should consider charging entry-fees as funds for museums start to dry up (click here to read more).
The main issue for the free-vs-paid debate in British museums is NOT about ‘visitorship’. The ‘museum’ is a great British institution and the Brits are adamant that everyone (rich, poor, educated, streetsmart) should be able to enjoy what a museum has to offer without worrying if s/he has enough change in his/her pocket to buy a ticket to do so. The issue is a matter of ‘funding’; if museums have to resort to selling off artefacts to raise funds (as mentioned in the second article above) to make up the shortfall from the government, perhaps then they should sell tickets instead to help balance the books.
Singapore must decide which is more important; 1) to give all Singaporeans a right to enjoy their national museums/collections which are funded by their taxes, or 2) to continue charging for entry (and participation in other museum programmes) because the Minister said that such fees contribute to ‘quality programmes’.
But unlike Britain, our ‘debate’ here in Singapore is not about ‘money’; Singapore’s national museums WILL NOT suffer significantly if they do not sell enough tickets. This is because the government and private sector donations/sponsorships are already funding much of the museums require (for example, click here to read about Hong Leong Foundation’s recent S$5m donation to Asian Civilisations Museum), largely because our museums simply cannot survive on ticket-sales alone.
As such, perhaps as a young nation yet to develop a strong museum-going culture among all strata of society, Singapore should consider giving free entry to all residents. This is in hope that all Singaporeans will consider visiting museums just as they would other free recreational activities like ‘window-shopping’. In time to come, the culture resulting from giving free-entry to our museums may one day make them as Singaporean as curry fish head and ERP.