There are, of course, many issues to be raised, not least the question of tax reform that would make it easier for people to donate large sums to the various cultural institutions. They do a great deal of it already but why not make it easier to do so? The answer is that the Treasury would not like it but, maybe, we should stop listening to the Treasury.
In the end I do not think that the big institutions in London and other cities can survive without some money from the taxpayer; they do not anywhere else, not even in the US. The question is how that money is to be administered and what other funding can be raised.
This is the point at which the question of paying for entry is raised, only to be dismissed through various spurious reasons. We already pay through our taxes, I have heard from one person. Yes we do but we also pay for various theatres and opera houses and companies, yet there is no suggestion that seats at the National Theatre or Covent Garden be free. Furthermore, a good many visitors do not pay those taxes, being visitors in this country but the solution to that, seriously proposed by people who ought to know better, that there should be a system of some people paying but not others on the basis of whether they are contributing anything in direct taxation, would require the setting up of such a complicated bureaucracy as to make one's head spin.
If people are made to pay for entry to museums and art galleries they will stop going is the favourite refrain, which somehow manages to ignore the fact that almost every other country charges for entry and, apparently, people still go. In fact, in almost every other city in Western Europe and North America one will find more local people as a proportion of visitors than in London, where the large museums and art galleries are overwhelmingly filled with tourists. The only other place that might be comparable in that respect is Paris.
A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days in Budapest. While there I went to see a very fine exhibition of József Rippl-Rónay and Maillol at the Hungarian National Gallery, where visitors have to pay. As usual, the place was full and, though there were many tourists, the majority were Hungarians.
On Thursday I went to see the superb exhibition of John Singer Sargent portraits at the National Portrait Gallery; it was quite well attended and most of the visitors were local. This, I find, is quite normal: while the permanent collections, which are free at the point of entry, tend to be filled by tourists, the exhibitions that have to be paid for get a far higher proportion of local visitors.
Could it be that we should think counter-intuitively and accept that more people will visit museums and art galleries if (or when) they start charging for entry?