National Gallery wants free admission

National Gallery

The National Gallery in Prague received almost half a million visitors last year, and a new proposal by the gallery's director to open doors for free could see that number go through the roof. He wants a budget increase to make that possible - though the Culture Ministry is not in favour. But could a change of government increase chances of free admission at the National Gallery?

National Gallery director Milan Knizak has come up with a novel proposal to allow Czechs and visitors to visit all of the gallery's permanent exhibitions for free starting in 2007. But that would mean extra funding from the Ministry of Culture, which is not in favour. I asked Mr Knizak why the gallery is proposing that admission fees be abolished:

"Firstly, because it's good for people, and secondly, it's not very expensive. It's not a big question of money—it would mean about 10 million crowns more per year from the state. Of course it's a good amount of money, but when we compare it with the budget that we get from the state, it's a really small amount. Therefore we would like to open all the permanent installations for the crowds because people love to come and we would love to show them what we have on exhibit."

Do you have a sense that people are not coming to the gallery as often as they would if it were less expensive, or what's behind this? Are we trying to be the same as galleries in Britain, or Sweden, or the United States?

"Yes, that's one of the reasons—it's very common, for instance, at the Tate Modern. But secondly, people are coming to the gallery. We have more visitors, for instance, than the National Museum and we are getting more and more. But we would like to open the gallery for all the classes, because we know that there are many older people who come during the free admission days. We have one day each month when the gallery is open for free in the afternoon and many, many people come to visit. We have a feeling that when we will open all these permanent installations which make-up about 70-80% of the gallery, that we will really help people to get in touch with the treasures that we are showing in the gallery."

Meanwhile, the Czech daily Pravo reports that the Ministry of Culture has rejected the proposal, stating that such a move would damage other institutions subsidized by the ministry.

But would it really be too expensive for the Ministry of Culture to finance the National Gallery's proposal? Milan Knizak again:

"Our budget for the whole year is about 300 million crowns, and we get 210 million crowns a year from the state. If we will get about another 10 million crowns more—which is about five percent of the budget—then we will manage everything. It's not [too expensive]. Maybe it's a political matter, maybe the reason is that the Ministry of Culture is not too friendly to the National Gallery, etc. There may be some political matters, but we know that it's the right step. We will try as hard as possible to talk to the possible new minister, the possible new government, because it's not a question of money."

With the possibility of changes at the Ministry of Culture whenever a new government is formed, a new administration might look on Mr Knizak's proposal more favourably.