TATE MODERN is the most popular museum of modern art in the world and the third most-visited attraction in Britain, its director revealed yesterday on the first anniversary of its opening.
The gallery, launched with glittering star-studded aplomb last May, attracted 5.25 million visitors in its first year, double the expected number and more than the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Only the British Museum and the Millennium Dome received more visitors in Britain.
The popular acclaim has been matched by the economic triumph of it generating about pounds 100m of benefits for the capital. And the buzz is due to continue with proposals announced yesterday for a piazza with shops, restaurants and a performance space just behind the Thamesside gallery.
Celebrating the success, the Tate's director, Sir Nicholas Serota, said it had "changed the place of the visual arts in our culture" as well as acting as a spur to regeneration in Southwark, among the poorest boroughs in London. But with about half the British visitors coming from outside London, Sir Nicholas said it was not solely a London phenomenon.
Just over 70 per cent of Tate Modern visitors were from Britain, with the rest mostly from Europe and America. They bought 1.5 million postcards, drank 850,000 cups of tea and coffee and used 135,000 audio guides. Half were under the age of 35, including 100,000 children in school groups.
Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, said the gallery typified the Government's aims of encouraging excellence in, and access to, the arts. "It is one of the very few buildings that takes your breath away when you walk through the door. And it has been able to draw in large numbers of people, many of whom have never been to an art gallery. The success of Tate Modern in drawing in a new audience for contemporary art has been one of the great achievements of this year."
Free admission, one of the Government's flagship policies, had been a key ingredient and Mr Smith said he was pleased the principle was now being extended. The Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum have announced they are to scrap admission charges.
Mr Smith said Tate Modern was important in more than just artistic terms. As the Tate galleries at St Ives and Liverpool had demonstrated, the Bankside development showed that culture could help the process of wider economic and social regeneration.
"What we now know from what has happened in Southwark, Walsall [where there is a revamped gallery] and the Lowry Centre in Salford is that having a …