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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 09:26 GMT
V&A visitor numbers under fire
Breathless by Cornelia Parker
Cornelia Parker's art is in the V&A's new British Galleries
Britain's national museum for art and design, the Victoria & Albert, has been criticised for failing to attract enough domestic visitors.

The criticism came in a report from the Public Accounts Committee, which checks that money agreed by parliament for public spending is being used effectively.

The committee reported that between 1995 and 2000, visitor numbers declined by 22%, and half of those who did attend were from overseas.

But the museum and Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the decline in visitor numbers had been reversed since free admission was introduced in November.

The great Bed of Ware
The British Galleries house the famous Bed of Ware

"The V&A now presents a totally transformed picture," a spokesman said.

"Since 1999 - 2000, visitors have increased substantially."

Last year, visitor numbers rose by 9%, and museum chiefs predict a further 20% rise in the current financial year.

The museum acknowledged that the number of overseas visitors had dropped over the last year.

But it pointed out that the overall numerical increase was therefore a tribute to its "great success" in winning over the domestic market.

Nearly 175,000 people passed through the V&A's doors in December 2001, compared with 43,000 for the same month a year earlier.

The committee's report followed similar observations from another government spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO).

There are good things going on at the V&A but not enough people know about them

The NAO's Sir John Bourn

In 2001, the NAO said most people "have no idea" what was inside the museum, and reported a fall in visitor numbers of 200,000 over the previous year.

Shortly after the NAO made its findings public, the V&A pledged to rebrand itself.

Last November, the museum opened its doors to 15 extra rooms housing the British Galleries - the V&A's largest project since World War II.

The galleries cost 31m, cover 3,000 square feet and contain objects spanning the reigns of Henry VIII and Queen Victoria.

Their opening, by Prince Charles, coincided with the beginning of free admissions.

See also:

20 Nov 01 | Arts
Prince opens 31m galleries
01 Apr 01 | Wales
Museums launch free entry
09 Jan 02 | Arts
V&A launch terracotta first
22 Feb 01 | Entertainment
V&A plans new image
19 Nov 01 | Arts
V&A treasure trove set to open
07 Mar 01 | Budget 2001
Museums and galleries will be free
03 Apr 00 | UK
Museum visits for 1
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