London's Culture Is Too Expensive For Young People

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 11 months ago
London's Culture Is Too Expensive For Young People

Part of what makes London such a great city to live in is all the amazing things to do here. Heck, it's a large part of what this website is dedicated to. Every day here at Londonist, we get press releases about amazing new shows in some of the world's best galleries, the latest theatre productions or a museum reopening. That's all great for some, but a look at the prices is a reminder that London isn't so welcoming for all.

Take a look at the prices for Tate Modern's Giacometti show. An adult ticket is £18.50 (or £16.80 without the recommended donation) and a concessions ticket is £16.50 (or £15 without donation). There's roughly a £2 price difference between concessions and adults, which is pretty minimal. A lot of museums and galleries seem to forget that the point of concession prices is to make things more affordable for those earning less, rather than a statutory pithy discount they must utilise.

However, looking at concessions prices is just the tip of the iceberg; full ticket prices are too expensive for young people who are earning.

Are young people smashing one of these open just to see some art? Photo: Jacob Edward

Young people earn a lot less than older generations. A lot of this is to do with experience — more experienced workers earn more, and that's only fair.

However, it goes further than this as wages are systematically biased against under 25s. The government imposed a national living wage that's £7.50 per hour, which was introduced in 2015. That wage is behind the advised London Living Wage currently sitting at £9.75 per hour, but still, it's something.

Except not if you're young. 21-24 year olds don't qualify for this wage — apparently because they're less productive — so instead they earn £7.05 per hour. Even they have it much better than 18-20 year olds who for their labour receive a minimum of £5.60 per hour.

Therefore many young Londoners have less income, meaning they have to be highly selective about what they spend their income on, especially regarding forms of entertainment. When it comes down to seeing an art exhibition for nearly £20, or streaming some TV at home — often for free — the decision becomes a financial one.

We're not the type to lecture that staring at a screen isn't as intellectually stimulating as going to a gallery — we're rather proud cinephiles and TV couch potatoes actually — but we don't believe that it should be a choice of one of the other. Young people are the future and we'd hate to see fantastic art galleries' audiences diminish because of costs. Another possible outcome of many young people being priced out of art is it becoming the fodder of elites. These expensive prices risk locking up the arts in an ivory tower comparable to where classical music currently sits.

Barbican. Photo: Chris Beckett

Some institutions have picked up on the difficulty London prices impose on young people, and have upped their game accordingly. The most notable of these is The Barbican which launched the Young Barbican scheme in 2014. It offers heavily discounted tickets to the 14-25 age group; take the acclaimed Japanese House exhibition, a standard ticket is £14.50 compared to the Young Barbican price of £5.

It stretches further than just art too, covering music, film and theatre as well. They also hold special events for Young Barbican scheme members. It's proved a huge success and now has over 40,000 members. The most impressive feat they've achieved is the makeup of these members: 91% are new to Barbican when they join, showing that a lot of young people are interested in the arts.

It's not just major institutions that are trying to tackle this issue. East London theatre The Yard also noticed a lack of under 25 year olds at their performances. It was especially troubling for them considering the venue is filled with millennials when the space doubles as a club on Saturday nights. So they've attempted to tackle the issue with a scheme they've dubbed No Empty Seats. Every evening any tickets that are left unsold go on offer to under-25s at just £5 a pop.

There is a major difference between Barbican's approach and The Yard's. Young Barbican guarantees it offers discounted prices from the moment tickets go on sale, whereas No Empty Seats is about giving away leftovers at no extra cost to the theatre. The Barbican make clear that their scheme, "would not be possible without support from individuals, foundations, businesses and our founder and principal funder, the City of London Corporation." Essentially it takes major backing to pull off such a fantastic discount programme.

Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. Photo: paul

This brings us to one of the major issues at hand. Surely the institutions that receive major financial backing from the government should be the ones offering the largest discounts. So the onus is on places like The British Museum and Tate to lower their prices for young people, rather than the undeniably expensive but not state-backed Royal Academy.

Taking Tate as an example, it's hard to see how it desperately needs whatever revenue it might lose from siginficantly lowering admission prices. Firstly there's an argument that lowering prices might raise revenue if it were to increase demand on a similar level to the Barbican. Secondly, a quick look at the Tate's financial accounts show that it's not exactly running low on funds; even if it did try to crowdfund a boat as a goodbye gift for their director.

Tate's 2015-16 financial report [pdf] shows that roughly only 4% of Tate's 'self-generated income' is comes from ticket sales. Considering a smaller fraction of that number actually make up under 25s, and that Tate's financial position is incredibly secure, surely they too could do more to cut ticket prices for younger visitors. There are also lots of other theatres, museums and galleries with financially secure positions and prohibitive pricing.

Recently we overheard a discussion that stated "young people today don't appreciate classical art." Perhaps they would if only they could go see it.

Last Updated 01 June 2017

Missing London.

The Londonist, which is brilliant, constantly bombards us with great places to eat & drink in London. Londoners are getting fatter so if they spent less on food, much of which is over hyped poor value fayre that people eat just 'to be cool', & drink they would be able to afford 'culture'. Rents, housing, culture, transport etc. all too expensive! Stop whingeing. I'm a Londoner living temporarily in Midwest USA. Come & live here : No culture, no public transport, housing through the roof [No pun.] & rents likewise. You live/work in the best city in the world so stop bloody well complaining.


The Art Pass card (Art Fund as was) costs £32 for people under 26. That gives a 50% discount on a huge number of exhibitions across the country. You'd save that back on four major London exhibitions in a year, which is *nothing* for anyone who likes a bit of culture, and after that it's a complete win. I pay full whack coz I'm ancient, and I save a ton of money over a year.

NB: I've noticed a nasty tendency at the big museums / galleries not to list the Art Pass price explicitly any more - "too many different concessions to show them all" apparently, when I've asked - but it's still usable virtually everywhere. And in a handful of places it even gives a discount in the shop.

The 50% doesn't apply for everything (e.g. the RA again with just its £2 saving, some of the Somerset House stuff not at all because of the funding) but it's broadly enough available to make membership a no-brainer. So it might be worth starting, when listing events / reviewing exhibitions, to include whether they're Art Pass friendly?



Also, just a thought: the vast majority of London's world class museums and galleries are free, with only the major exhibitions that are paid for. The V&A is a prime example of a space where exhibitions are often rammed whilst the permanent displays can surprisingly be almost empty a lot of the time, particularly towards the back / top of the building. If people genuinely love culture, it's not exactly tricky for them to fill their boots for free - they just might have to miss out on the cashflow generating blockbusters. It's not the end of the world. As Missing London says, remember to appreciate what you've got, because the rest of us aren't nearly so lucky.

Marty Fox

Sounds like a real expensive place these days!