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V&A chief Tristram Hunt floats idea of new tax to alleviate funding issues in British galleries

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During the course of a talk at Royal Academy’s Festival of Ideas on Saturday 8 September, Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, suggested that British cities should consider the introduction and implementation of a “hotel tax” in order to allow both museums and galleries to remain (largely) free for visitors.

Hunt, who served seven years as the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central between 2010 and 2017 before leaving the post to take the reins at one of the world’s leading art and design institutions, seems to be in favour of the kind of taxation which British tourists find themselves paying when staying in hotels in cities like Rome and New York. Said tourists then find themselves paying inflated entry fees to visit art spaces.

A trip to New York’s Museum of Modern Art will set you back $25, while MAXXI in Rome charges adults a slightly more reasonable €12. Head to Liverpool’s outpost of the Tate, for example, and unless you visit specific exhibitions, you won’t have to spend a penny.

The reasoning for Hunt’s possibly levy is simple: the slashing of arts funding that has touched nearly every part of the creative sector has a massive impact on museums and galleries, both of which are incredibly expensive things to open, maintain, and future-proof. The V&A, as an example, received £37.8m in grant-in-aid in 2017-18 and made £6m from exhibitions and admissions.

In a newspaper column printed in 2011, Hunt floated the idea of reversing the free-entry policy that all government-supported arts institutions had embraced in 2001. The Telegraph reports that when questioned about this position, he says, “The reason I wrote that was the state of regional, particularly local authority, museums who were subject to council funding.”

He admits that the V&A “have had it bad,” but says that smaller, local authority museums have been “absolutely smashed” in the austerity age. Free entry has been accepted and normalised, and museums and galleries are aware that it is everything from flat whites to framed prints that can provide the economic sustenance that was lost when the policy was adopted under the Blair government.

Now it seems that the author of 2009’s The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels wants to see local authorities in the UK adopt — or at least trial — a similar hotel tax scheme to subsidise cultural ventures up and down the country, with cities like “London, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Bristol,” and “wherever,” being mentioned by Hunt as possible loci of implementation.

“I do think a hotel tax which supports cultural infrastructure and maintaining free entry is something I’d be very much in favour of,” Hunt says.