Admission Charges – A Necessary Evil

5 Jun

Lying in bed this morning I was contemplating museum admission charges (What, you mean you don’t do that, too?).  My traditional stance is that I hate any and all museum admission fees.  I think it’s pointless to have to pay to see the great works which belong to our shared heritage.  They should be available for everyone free of charge.  I’ve applauded things such as free days and think London is the greatest city in the world because you can see just about everything without paying one Pence.

The only problem is that like any other organization museums need money to operate.  Like most non-profits, they have been hurting since the financial crisis and are having trouble bouncing back.  At a time when people (myself included) are clamoring for lower admission fees, most museums are having to charge more to make up for the money they’re not receiving from their endowments or wealthy donors.  As much as it goes against my principles, it’s now up to those of us who enjoy art to step up.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York recently raised their suggested admission fee from $20 to $25.  People are outraged, understandably.  I personally think that paying that much money for an art museum is insane.  Unfortunately the money has to come from somewhere, and since American art museums get far less money from the government as those in Europe (which is in itself an entire post topic) we have to pay higher admission fees.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is rather unique, though.  It’s not quite like Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which announced that it will raise its mandatory admission fee to $22.  The Met has an agreement with the city of New York that stipulates that they officially can’t charge for admission since the building is officially city property.  Instead, visitors are asked to pay a “suggested” fee.  Now I can say from experience that the fee is in fact very strongly suggested by the signage in the entry pavilion and by staff, but those in the know often pay less.  Representatives from the Met have even declined to say what the average visitor gives for fear that it would encourage others to follow suit.  I can’t say I blame them.

We all get annoyed when our favorite restaurant closes because they’re not getting enough business.  Museums could be facing something similar.  It’s not that they’re going to close, but many could be forced to cut back on opening hours and popular programs if funding doesn’t increase.  Like many businesses, often the first step is reducing staff.

So, as much as I dislike admission fees to museums, they are a necessary evil.  I say this as someone who believes very strongly in the importance of museums in a society’s education and cultural life.  They are certainly worthy places to spend your money.  At the Met, if just 5% of their visitors pay the full fee (I have no idea if they actually do, it’s just a guess.  Please feel free to correct me if you know differently.) that would be an extra $1,250,000 in their budget.  That’s probably not much money for an institution the size of the Met, but it can still go a long way toward keeping the treasures in the collection in the best condition possible for future generations.

Maybe someday more art museums will offer free admission.  I can only hope.  But for right now, go ahead and make the effort to skip the free day and pay the admission.  Leave some spare change in the collection box or stop at the gift shop to pick up a present for your sister who has a birthday coming up.  Museums are in bad shape, and they need all the help they can get.  Just think about all the memories and experiences you’ve had in museums in your life.  Isn’t it only fair to return the favor?

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2 Responses to “Admission Charges – A Necessary Evil”

  1. turboseize June 8, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    25$ admission fee to a museum? That’s ourageous, at least from my point of view.

    Some ten to fifteen years ago I read an article in National Geographic magazine covering the old and new capital, Berlin. The -obviously- american author was amazed that the city of Berlin alone spent more on cultural purposes than the United States.

    In Europe, aristrocrats have been the main source of founding for the fine arts for centuries, if not milleniums. When aristocracies became republics, they continued this tradition. Most Europeans share the the common beliefs that education should be accessible to everybody, regardless of income, and that cultural funding is of great benefit to a society in general and thus a duty of the state.

    In the last years, public cultural funding has seen severe cuts, but reading your text I think we’re stll very well off…

  2. Sarah Evans July 13, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    I just recently paid 50 cents to go to the MET. Twenty-five cents for the Guggenheim. And a buck for the Museum of Natural history.
    I have no idea how many people actually pay that much. The lady in front of me paid 20 bucks for 4 tickets.

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