SHOULD THE BRITISH MUSEUM BE RENAMED
“THE TEMPLE TO AVARICE”?
Throughout my life I have been an avid supporter of the role museums could and should play in the education and enlightenment of people. In fact, my parents always thought that I should live in a museum as I spent so much time in them.
As I am now much older, have a more packed timetable and am disabled, it is rare that I can now attend museums as much as I would like to.
On Monday (27th October 2014), shortly following an enforced stay in hospital, I decided to get out and pay a visit to the British Museum, one of my all time favourite haunts. It has been many years since my last visit, so I was expecting some of the improvements, which had been well published, but boy was I in for a shock.
The external of the building seems unchanged from everything I remembered. I noticed signs pointing to level access via a disability lift to the left of the grand entrance stairs. I headed towards these, only to find the lift was sealed off. I walked (using my one crutch for support) the length of the entrance stairs to find the lift at the other end, which was working and manned by a helper, although there was a queue for it’s use.
Having reached the entrance level, I entered the building to be greeted by a giant container requesting that everyone donate £5 towards the museum. This approximate 3meter by 3meter container was half full of notes from all denominations. A fortune.
Walking past this enormous begging bowl, I entered the main foyer. It was every bit as grandiose as I had been led to expect. As this foyer was new to me, I decided to explore it a bit more, going clockwise around it. I saw an information desk with all sorts of information for sale, at what seems to me a ridiculous price. The cheapest map I could obtain was one for £1, which I still remember used to be provided free. The next thing I noticed was the Multi Media centre, where all sorts of audio guides were available at a further cost to the visitor.
The next thing I noticed was the entrance way to the Egyptian Gallery. Always one of the worlds’ favourite exhibits, but I couldn’t enter it due to a crowd around the Rosetta Stone blocking the entrance. It was then I noticed the guardians that were on either side of the gallery entrance. No, I don’t mean the security guards, I mean the pillars of glass and cash once again asking for you to donate £5.
Rotating from these begging boxes, I saw the first of the shops, so I walked over to have a look. The first thing to hit me was the prices.
The British Museum seems to have gone down the line of the Disney Stores, who seem to take a standard item, place their logo or image on them, and then charge ridiculous prices for the honour. There is no question that the goods were of decent quality, but quality and value-for-money do not seem to go hand-in-hand here.
Exiting this shop, I found the first cafeteria. You will notice that I have placed the word into italics, as it is like no cafeteria I know.
A cafeteria to me is a place affordable to all prospective customers, but I took one look at the extortionate prices and refused to buy anything. This cafeteria is using every trick to hype prices as high as possible. The cheapest cup of tea was well over £2. Why? Because they are using the old trick, now sadly used in many café’s located in a monopoly position, e.g. museums, of using ‘loose leaf tea’! Added to the ‘elite’ level food and similarly overpriced coffee. Has nobody told you that most people at home now use a thing called a teabag, and can now make an enormous range of coffees’ indoors, so we all know what it costs to produce these goods, and that is way below their costs.
I would gladly have had the option to buy which you may wish to call Builder’s, Workman’s or Cockney’s tea (using teabags) and (instant) coffee, at a reasonable price for those who cannot afford “silver service”.
It took me around three quarters an hour to circumnavigate this foyer, seeing nothing other than shop after shop, and begging bowl after begging bowl guarding every foyer egress point.
Halfway round, I noticed the featured exhibition “Germany memories of a nation, a 600-year history in objects”, only to find that the admission fee to the elderly and disabled was £8 (a whole £2 concession!). The weird thing about this is that the exhibition is already sponsored by Betsy and Jack Ryan, with support from the rich Salmon Oppenheimer Philanthropic Foundation, so their costings were already met by their sponsors. Why do they need to set such high admission rates on top? Could it be greed? No, surely not. No thanks. Too expensive. I’ll continue my stroll.
I eventually reached the entranceway again. I had done a complete circumnavigation of the enormous foyer area, only managed to see one small corner of the Rosetta Stone and one hell of a lot of professional marketing.
I stood with my back to the entrance, looking at the scrappy old German car on display, and wondered. Had I just been around a museum or a very expensive marketing experience. Yes. Somehow the real reason for this magnificent edifice had been lost. It is clear that greed had taken over from the role of exhibiting the world’s culture.
What a sad time for this fantastic world-famous landmark. Reduced to fleecing tourists for as much as they can, before they can even see an exhibit.
Have their market researchers ever thought that if they were fairer with their visitors, then those visitors would return time after time, instead of coming once and avoiding ever returning because of the costs.
I fully understand that any organisation in this day-and-age must turn a profit, but I feel that the aim of seeking profits has taken complete control of a place I loved as a child.
I turned with a sad heart, traversed the giants begging bowl, and headed back to the lift down the steps.
By the lift at the lower level was a lorry selling food and drink. I thought, “Ah, a chance for a decent priced snack and a cuppa”. But sadly no. This lorry was part of the exhibition, and was charging the same prices as inside the museum.
I stood by the main entrance gates, looked back at what I had always called a Temple To The Culture Of The World, but all I could now see is it’s new title to me “The British Museum, The Temple Of Avarice.”
I had tea, a snack and a rest in a local café, paying less than I would have paid for just a tea in the museum.
After this experience, I think I will start touring other museums and landmarks, to see how they compare, so keep an eye on this site.