The following research paper investigates the present condition of London’s museums, focusing upon three aspects: their historical development, their present issues and debates, and their strategies for ensuring future survival and prosperity. To ascertain these facts five senior management figures from five leading London museums were interviewed and asked to complete questionnaires discussing the themes mentioned above. The research focuses at much length upon the decision of the present Labour government to introduce free admission to London’s museums and to finance this policy with funds from the National Lottery. Another key aspect of the research was to determine the level of competition posed to London’s museums by European, American and other international museums; further, to discover how London’s museums might raise their performance to match this competition. In addition, another type of competition faced by London’s museums is that of domestic attractions perceived by tourists and the public to be more sensational and exciting than ‘old-fashioned’ museums. Famous examples include the London Eye, Madam Taussards, and the Tower of London amongst others; these attractions fit well with the zeitgeist of modern British youth and it is a major problem for London’s museums as to how they will re-assert their prominence. A third central aspect of the research, viewed both from the sides of museum management and from the government, is the question of the strategies that London’s museums will pursue in the twenty-first century. The survival and success of London’s museums will very much depend upon the decisions made regarding such strategy and its efficacy once put into place. The present research assesses the likely efficacy of such strategies, and the consequences that their implementation will have upon the public’s ‘museum experience’. The results of the research paint double-sided picture: on the side, of optimism regarding the increased admissions figures witnessed since free admissions began, and, on the other side, a gloomy scene dominated by the London museums’ lack of financial support and by the negative consequences of the government insistence of putting attendance figures before a qualitative artistic and cultural experience.
Since the foundation of the British Museum almost two hundred and fifty years ago, London has had an international reputation as the museum capital of the world, as the city with the finest collections, the best specialists and the most to offer the fascination of the public. In addition to the British Museum, London can boast the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the London Transport Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Theatre Museum amongst numerous other world-class museum-experiences. In their early decades London’s museums flourished through the generosity of private donations and gifts, and through royal and government funding; these ample resources gave museums such as the British Museum unrivalled funds for the construction of magnificent architecture and the gathering of the most splendid specimens and pieces from across the globe. But by the early 1990’s,
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