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Should the price of tickets be voluntary?

At some point, all of us have visited a cake sale for a good cause. Charities looking to raise money will have spent hours putting together the most fantastic creations that look absolutely appetising for the public’s delight. Aiming to raise funds for important causes, there is often no set price on how much each cake costs. Individuals are simply invited to donate whatever funds they can. It is arguably fairer that way – everyone can contribute but only what they can financially afford.

Could this scheme be applied beyond the cake sale? Even in the arts perhaps? One of the brilliant things about the last few months has been the return of live indoor events on a large scale. Social distancing in theatres is no longer necessary with performances able to return to their full capacity. It is a joy to have theatres at their full scale.

The social and economic costs of the last year have meant some organisations have decided to be more generous with regards to their charging policy.

Yet the question of whether it should mark a return to full prices has gathered debate. The social and economic costs of the last year have meant some organisations have decided to be more generous with regards to their charging policy. Battersea Arts Centre have announced that individuals coming to see a live show will be able to decide the cost of their ticket.

Though it may seem unusual at first, unusual would be the least of the adjectives used to describe the last year. Theatre productions have needed to adapt to the online world. Actors have been out of work. Ideas that may have developed have had to be placed on hold. To suggest that individuals might be able to decide more of their payment is not perhaps too radical.

This is part of the aim at Battersea Arts Centre to make themselves more inclusive by having, for example, a Relaxed Venue and ensuring that everyone can access the artistic creative. To make the arts more open to people is admirable. Theatre, museums and art galleries, for example, are still viewed as inherently middle-class hobbies, which can invariably put people off and make them feel jarred from attending. Even though museums are generally free, the perception of being middle class can act as significantly removing people from wider involvement.

To make the arts more open to people is admirable. Theatre, museums and art galleries, for example, are still viewed as inherently middle-class hobbies, which can invariably put people off and make them feel jarred from attending.

Could this have consequences? Naturally, if they cannot guarantee a high level of income, the funding stream of Battersea Arts Centre will be significantly damaged. Were everyone to pay the lowest possible fee, such a practice would not be financially sustainable. The organisers will have needed to take this into account when making such a radical policy move.

The hope is that encouraging people to pay what they want incentivises those with the broadest shoulders to make a larger financial contribution. Individuals with extensive wealth will see the Arts Centre is trying to open up their services to more and perhaps make a larger donation than if the ticket price was fixed. While lots of pessimism can exist about selfishness, there is still an immense amount of good will in place that would seek to fill those financial holes.

The hope is that encouraging people to pay what they want incentivises those with the broadest shoulders to make a larger financial contribution.

There is also another argument about general products within life. We have to pay a fixed price for certain products. There is no negotiating with supermarkets unless you are trying to reclaim a discount. The difference here is that there is a far greater level of competition. You can only go and see that performance at that Arts Centre, there may be nowhere else that is local.

Similarly, artistic access and innovation are the building blocks of the good life. People need to have an open and meaningful connection with that. That will in part come through excellent engagement with local schools to frame artistic development as a key part of education. But that is also something that shouldn’t be forgotten once kids leave school. The enjoyment that comes from learning and attending art should remain once formal education has ended. The scheme of Battersea Arts Centre has holes in it but is a good first aspiration to work towards. It deserves to be commended.

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