The seven national museums in Wales received 1.69 million visits in 2011-12, the highest total ever recorded since free entry was introduced in April 2001.
The Welsh Government and Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales
introduced the policy eight months earlier than in England a pioneering move that nearly doubled visitor figures to national museums in Wales. This political commitment to promoting access for all to Wales culture and history remains as strong today, with the policy enshrined in the Welsh Governments plan of action for 2011-16, Programme for Government.
Back in 2001-02, a specific free for all campaign resulted in figures increasing 88% - from 764,599 to 1,430,428 - within 12 months. The momentum has continued and in fact accelerated. By 1 April 2012, 16.5 million visits had been made over the 11 years of free entry.
One particular success story during 2011-12 has been the opening of the new National Museum of Art on the top floor of National Museum Cardiff in July 2011, made possible with major investment from the Welsh Government as well as other funders. This has proved to be very popular with new audiences 50,485 more visits ( +13.7%) have been made to National Museum Cardiff during 2011-12 as compared to 2010-11.
In addition, the National Wool Museum achieved over 30,000 visits for the first time. Since 2000 - 01, this Museum located in the Teifi Valley has seen its visitor figures increase by 236%!
David Anderson, Director General, Amgueddfa Cymru said: Our recent visitor figures have been excellent. Thanks to the vision and continued financial support of the Welsh Government, I'm delighted that Wales was the first country in the UK to remove a major barrier to museum attendance.
Amgueddfa Cymru has spent a lot of time and energy on ensuring that its Communications and Marketing is based on the formulation and implementation of effective Audience Development Action Plans at each of the seven individual museums.
Striking the right balance between meeting the needs and expectations of existing loyal visitors and attracting new audiences has been critical both in terms of increasing the volume and also, within that total, increasing the number of visitors from the C2, D and E socio-economic categories.
In 2000-01 fewer than 250,000 of visits were made by people from these less affluent groups. Over the years, the figure has increased to over 500,000 one in every three visits.
Free entry is only one of the ways that Amgueddfa Cymru contributes to the social and economic life of Wales. We also play a leading role in culture and heritage provision, education, skills and tourism.
"Amgueddfa Cymru is the biggest provider of formal learning outside the classroom in Wales, bringing learning alive for over 230,000 pupils and students each year. We inspire people of all ages and communities, whatever their background, through our collections, a variety of exhibitions and events. Our work is also seen outside the museum buildings, as we work in partnership with groups all over Wales and beyond on a range of community projects."
Huw Lewis, Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage added: "I congratulate Amgueddfa Cymru on such an impressive achievement. The free entry policy has of course proved popular with traditional museum visitors but what really pleases me is the fact that it has also attracted completely new, harder to reach, audiences through addressing barriers to access such as poverty and social exclusion as well as encouraging tourists to visit Wales.
Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales operates seven national museums across Wales. These are National Museum Cardiff; St Fagans: National History Museum; National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon; Big Pit: National Coal Museum; Blaenafon, National Wool Museum, Dre-fach Felindre; National Slate Museum, Llanberis ;National Waterfront Museum, Swansea. Admission to Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Waless Museums is free thanks to the support of the Welsh Government.