Flip-flop on free-entry to Singapore national museums: Why the sudden change of position, Mr Minister?

Not so long ago, our government alluded to maintaing the status quo that only some – not all – S’poreans would enjoy free-entry to our national museums. Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong was quoted in Nov 2012: “Visitorship is also driven by the quality of programming, and this requires significant resources to sustain. Otherwise, as we have observed in some European countries which offer free admissions, visitorship numbers can still taper off after an initial phase.” (click here for the article). His basic premise is that ‘free entry’ may not mean that museums will be well-patronised.

Fast-forward to Mar 2013 (which is a mere 3-4 months from the above statement). The same minister recently announced that ALL S’poreans and PRs will enjoy free entry to national museums starting May 18, 2013 (click here for the article).

I can only wonder why the apparent 180-degree flip-around in such a short time from the same minister? Could this be part of the recent knee-jerk reactions by the government to placate Singaporeans (think of them as ‘voters’, and not mere ‘citizens’) into thinking that the govt is putting them on a pedestal ahead of foreigners (such as labour laws tightening influx of foreigners into S’pore)?

Whatever the circumstances, S’poreans will stand to gain, now that they can visit permanent collections in national museums for free, to see the exhibits collected and taken care of using their taxpayers’ money. But the problem that the Minister raised still stands: With free entry, the number of S’poreans visiting national museums will rise for a while, then reach a plateau, and then fall. You see, the ‘permanent displays’ will be ‘free-to-see’. This means that a S’porean may only need to visit a museum to see the permanent exhibition once, and not again until this ‘permanent’ exhibition changes (which may take 4-5 years or more). So after the initial surge in many S’poreans visiting local national museums for free, many will not step into another local museum for years after that. The ‘draws’ that museums have are the ‘temporary’ exhibitions, which would still be chargeable (and therefore again serve as barriers that prevent many S’poreans from seeing these fleeting – but good quality – exhibitions). So I predict that from May 2013, local museums will have it good for a few years. And after that, they would be wondering what to do when the number of S’porean visitors fall and that they don’t have any more ‘tricks’ up their sleeves to entice them. You see, now that S’poreans have to pay to visit national museums, these museums use ‘free entry’ days to bolster their visitorship numbers. When you have already used your ‘ace’ (i.e. free entry all the time), what other card can you play when you want even more of them to visit your permanent exhibitions?

But before I get lambasted for being a thankless pessimist again, I say a big ‘HOORAY’ to this latest move from our government! I support free national exhibitions for every citizen because they deserve to see how their taxpayers’ money has been spent in terms of ‘heritage’ preservation and displays.

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