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Attendance at major UK museums takes a plunge

Figures compiled by the government show a drop in visitors at Tate and the National Gallery

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Visitor figures fell at several UK national museums last year according to a report published by the UK government Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The DCMS funds 15 museums—13 nationals and two non-national institutions—which do not charge admission fees.

Its visitor figures data for the period April 2015 to March 2016 shows a fall in attendance at the Imperial War Museums which runs five venues; the National Gallery in London; the Natural History Museum; the Royal Armouries in Leeds; the Wallace Collection in London and the Tate Gallery group, which covers four sites including Tate Britain and Tate Liverpool (data for the different sites was not available).

The total number of visits made came to 47.6m compared to 50.7m from 2014 to 2015 (the latter also included data for Tyne and Wear Museums, which was not included in the most recent tally). The most popular institution was the British Museum with 6.9m visits compared to 6.7m (2014/15).

The survey also revealed that educational visits and the participation of young people in off-site activities have fallen at 11 national museums in England. The Science Museum group, comprising five branches, had the most educational visits (486,000) followed by the British Museum (258,567). But the National Gallery in London saw a drop in visits to museums by visitors aged under 18 in full-time education, decreasing from 146,000 to 108,510.

The National Gallery says in a statement that during 2015, the gallery was affected by more than 100 days of strike action linked to the privatisation of services, resulting in the cancellation of many school visits and education-related programmes. “This had an inevitable impact on our visitor numbers from both schools and general gallery visitation that year,” it says. The industrial action was resolved in October 2015.

The Royal Armouries museum had the largest proportion of overseas visitors in 2015/16, with 67.5% of visitors coming from abroad. The report does not, however, include material related to the self-generated income of DCMS museums “due to data issues”.  

A DCMS spokeswoman told us that visitor  numbers at its museums in December were the highest on record.