We are all born curious. We aim to keep that spark of curiosity burning bright in the Science Museum's new interactive gallery, Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery, which opens this autumn. Our plan is to make it the best of its kind, with stunning exhibits such as a giant interactive orrery, live shows led by our talented Explainers (science communicators) and to double the number of schoolchildren who visit for free so we can do even more to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.
Yet since last week's launch a handful of commentators seem more curious about the introduction of a modest entry charge for non-school visitors. 'Aren't national museums supposed to be free?', they asked. The answer is yes and - to avoid any thin-end-of-the-wedge innuendo - let me be clear that a visit to the Science Museum will remain so; free access to permanent collections at national museums is Government policy. When Wonderlab opens in October, visitors will still be able to roam more than 90% of our vast building without paying, enjoying priceless objects from the Apollo 10 command module to Stephenson's Rocket.
Not only does the museum remain free, it is in the midst of a transformation. Following the Royal opening of our Information Age gallery, we are working with Zaha Hadid Architects to replace a rather tired gallery with a stunning new Mathematics gallery and are creating the world's greatest suite of galleries devoted to our medical collection. This is all to ensure that our millions of visitors each year leave with a greater understanding of the science that shapes our lives, with no obligation to pay even one penny.
We're confident, however that many will choose to pay a modest £8 (£6 for a child) for an immersive hands-on experience led by our Explainers, the Museum's talented team of science communicators, in a gallery big enough to accommodate 54 Routemaster buses that boasts more than 50 exhibits, two live demonstration areas and a stunning showspace.
Ticket income will go towards the, frankly very high, cost of running and maintaining this interactive space and, most importantly, this sustainable funding model enables us to waive the charge for this inspirational experience for school children , who are our most diverse and demographically representative audience.
Of course, in a time of declining public funding, we could have watched our previous free interactive gallery decline, patching it up from time to time and reducing the involvement of our Explainers. But we made a positive and ambitious choice to invest in the future of our Museum, to invest in the future of young curious minds and to develop a world-beating interactive gallery which, through an entry charge, will retain its extremely high quality of visitor experience for many years to come.
Wonderlab is 60% larger than the Museum's previous interactive gallery, allowing us to set ambitious targets to double - to 200,000 - the number of young people passing through for free on a school trip within three years of opening. The Science Museum Group museums in London, Bradford, Manchester and York attract a broader range of visitors than other national museums but sadly no museum attracts audiences that are fully representative of our society.
That's why our school groups are so vital; by their very nature they reflect the community they serve, ensuring that every child can experience the kind of hands-on learning experience at the Science Museum that inspired the likes of Tim Peake and Stephen Hawking. While this isn't a Robin Hood policy - at £39 pounds a year for unlimited entry for a family of four our pricing is the very antithesis of daylight robbery - charging that will benefit our most diverse and deserving audience.
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