Is free admission to Britain's galleries and museums about to go down the tube? There is a marked tightening of the government's attitude here, in marked contrast to the early euphoria of the Chris Smith days. It's all beginning to stretch at the seams – there is a full flush of cabinet hubris and excitement at the social role and contribution of the project. However, that gambling casinos might engender such funds could possibly trample down just these lofty ideals.
It was all very well for Nick Serota not so long ago, in his 2000 Dimbleby Lecture, to lament the decline of regional galleries for a lack of resources. The Heritage Lottery Fund played a key part in restoring confidence with a subsequent partial recovery. Charles Saumarez-Smith, the present Director of the National Gallery, has recently pointed out how little official celebration has marked that brief surge of regional museums. This could be exemplified by the creation of such public spaces as the BALTIC at Gateshead, the Lowry and the Imperial War Museum North, both at Salford. Why, beseeches Saumarez-Smith, has the government 'chosen to keep culture so much at arms length?' Perhaps the present Minister for Sport and Culture, Tessa Jowell, can find time in 2007 to pursue culture again, after the apparent financial setbacks over the London Olympics. We shall see. But hands off admission charges.