Can American Art Museums Continue To Afford To Be Free To The Public
We all want free museum admisison but who should pay?
Are art museums better off offering free admission? As the art market surges, and museum attendance rises, the question of what kind of ticket prices institutions should charge continues to be a hot button issue.
While free admission has obvious benefitsUCLAs Hammer Museum began offering it this past February and by the end of the year had seen a 25 percent increase in attendancefinancing such a policy can be difficult.
At the Dallas Museum of Art , the recently-instituted free admission policy is supported by a federal grant. In New York, the Bronx Museum of the Arts eliminated its $5 entry fee thanks to a three-year grant, but with that funding set to expire, the museum is scrambling to find the necessary $250,000 in its budget to extend the popular policy.
With federal grants from organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities drying up , museums are hard-pressed to find ways to make up for lost revenue from ticket sales. In some cases, this can lead to controversial corporate sponsorships.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art, which had been free for decades, began charging $18 for tickets in April, thanks to financial difficulties. New Yorks free Museum of Biblical Art recently announced that it would close at the end of the month, as it was unable to afford New York City real estate prices.
The Whitney Museum of American Art.Photo: Nic Lehoux.
How Do Museums Make Money
Museums generate revenues from admissions, membership fees, educational programs, gift shop and other sales. Educational programs can bring in substantial net revenues, but most museums either loose money on these or just break even. Only in large and heavily trafficked museums do gift shops warrant a paid staff.
Have A Say In The Museums Future
In addition to the potential member and donor perks mentioned above, members and donors of a museum often also have the ability to get more involved with the operation of the museum and to have influence over the future of the museum. This may be through getting directly involved in projects, meeting museum staff at organized lunches or conferences, being able to state your opinions in meetings, etc.
You can also do it by placing your donations directly into a fund where the money is designated for a specific purpose. So instead of giving unrestricted funds, you can donate specifically to fund an educational outreach initiative or a restoration project that is important to you
Even if you dont have money to donate, you may also be able to have an influence on the future directions of a museum, especially in smaller museums, by joining and participating in the volunteer program.
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Household Income Of Free Vs Paid Admission Museum Attendees
Lets start with the free admission metric we talk about most here on Know Your Own Bone. The data below shows the annual household income of visitors to paid vs. free organizations. These are folks who have visited these entities within the last two years, through the end of the first quarter of 2019.
If free admission organizations were effectively welcoming lower-income audiences because they are free, then the household incomes of visitors to these organizations would be dramatically lower. They arent. They are not even statistically significant!
How could this possibly be?! Well, the kind of people who go to museums are the kind of people who go to museums. The visitors to free vs. paid admission organizations are so similar that depending on the time of the data pull, some free admission organization types actually have slightly higher household incomes than paid admission organizations. When we shared the data through the end of 2017, this was the case for art museums. Again, however, this is not a statistically significant difference. The point is that free museums do not generally reach more lower-income audiences than paid admission museums.
Why Are Historical Museums Important
For centuries, museums have played an integral role in preserving the history of our society. Exhibits tell us stories about how our nation, our communities and our cultures came to be and without them, those stories could be forgotten. Museums serve our communities in a multitude of ways, as we have seen firsthand.
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Why All Art Museums Should Be Free
All museums should be free because regardless of institutional intentions when they are free we can use them in ways that better fit our lives, and thus they become more accessible practically and intellectually as well as financially. When museums are free we can see one painting everyday on our lunch breaks.
Dingwall Museum In Scotland
The Dingwall Museum is a local history museum in Dingwall, Scotland located in the Scottish Highlands along the popular North Coast 500 driving route. The small town museum is located in a historical building of the former Town Council and presents historical artifacts across several rooms. The museum is free to enter but accepts donations.
The museum relies on council grants, donations, and volunteers to operate. Its major operating costs are insurance and security. Due to decreased grant funding in recent years, it has to depend on volunteers to operate the museum as there is not enough funding to pay staff. It is only open seasonally.
In 2018, the operating costs were approximately Â£8,000, it received approximately 5,000 visitors, and received Â£2,500 in donations. Donations represent about 30% of the total income for the museum with each visitor leaving an average of Â£0.50.
It currently costs approximately Â£1.50 per visitor to operate the museum using staff volunteers. The cost to run the museum would obviously be greater if they were to pay staff rather than to depend entirely on volunteers.
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Why We Need Museums Now More Than Ever
In todays uncertain times, museums can act as an anchor in the storm.
To those who arent as passionate about the power of museums as readers of this blog, it can often seem that such institutions are merely places where forgotten objects go to enjoy their final years.
But despite this, theres a strong case to be made that the museum is more relevant today than it has ever been. From addressing key social issues to transforming how we see the future, the humble museum has the power to reflect and shape our society. Here are five reasons why we need museums now more than ever.
Some People Believe That Museums Should Be Free Because Art Is A Free Resource And Should Be Made Available To Everyone
In doing so, they feel, art institutions would grow in numbers, and would create an environment where all can participate in the art space. Others believe that a great number of people would be visiting a free art museum that is mostly empty on a weekday.
In this regard, art galleries, too, should be made free of charge.
Another argument is that free admission would give rise to the possibility of looting and destruction of artifacts and artworks.
Museums are repositories of invaluable historical and cultural treasures, and to allow access to people who are interested in stealing or destroying these resources is unacceptable.
Art institutions already receive enough funding to cover the costs of their activities, and that does not warrant that more funds be taken from them in the form of fees.
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Why All Major Museums Should Be Free
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For the first time in half a century, starting March 1, nonNew York residents will be required to pay to enter the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met insists the move is a necessary last resort. But unfortunately, it means that the thousands who don’t have the means to pay the full fee may now be cut off to the arts. And sure, maybe a small charge is a fair price to pay to ensure centuries of creation are properly maintained for generations to come. But when a city like London manages to keep their institutes free of charge, all other big cities should be able to, too. Right?
Art For All
“Imagine how much better our society would be if museums were free to everyone. Seriously, imagine it: people of all ages and walks of life having a free pass to the worlds revolving door of installations, exhibits, and thought-provoking commentaries. I only see potential for positive change. I believe everyone who can give should give to the arts, but privilege shouldnt be a prerequisite for access to museums.”Megan Spurrell
Pay For It
Keeps Free Entry Attractions Free
Free attractions tend to attract more visitors, but an increase in visitors often doesnt relate to an increase in income. Sometimes drops in public funding can lead to changes in admission policies, and free museums may need to begin charging an entry fee.
For example, about half of the national museums in the UK adopted admission fees in the 1980s and 1990s due to a decrease in government funding. Free entry to all the permanent collections was reintroduced in 2001 with government support and funding to make up for the lost income from selling tickets.
A decrease in visitor donations can also lead to a museum changing its policy from free to paid entry. For example, as we saw earlier, The Met partially attributed its change in admission policy from a pay-what-you-wish policy to a standard admission fee to a large drop in the average donation per visitor.
In the UK, more museums are charging admission fees to try to meet their operating costs as levels of public funding have dropped. In 2018, 4% of surveyed museums by the Museums Association in the UK added new admission charges in the past year and over half of the museums now charge an admission fee.
Not everyone can afford an admission fee to visit a museum, and this can be particularly problematic for low-income families. If visitors who can afford to donate do so, it can help keep the museum free for those who cannot.
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Should Museums Charge Admission Fee
Adding charging to entry improves the visitor welcome and gives museums comprehensive information about its demographics. A visitor to a museum can decide the extent to which you pay in shops and cafes, and how much to donate in return. In comparison, museum admission is not free just because they put on the show.
How Do Museums Benefit Society
Museums can increase our sense of wellbeing, help us feel proud of where we have come from, can inspire, challenge and stimulate us, and make us feel healthier. With society facing issues such as poverty, inequality, intolerance and discrimination, museums can help us understand, debate, and challenge these concerns.
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What Are The Benefits Of Museums
Museums are institutions created in the public interest. They engage their visitors, foster deeper understanding and promote the enjoyment and sharing of authentic cultural and natural heritage. Museums acquire, preserve, research, interpret and exhibit the tangible and intangible evidence of society and nature.
Museums Should Be Free To Everyone Regardless Of Where They Live Or How Much They Earn
When museums are free we can use them in ways that better fit our lives, and thus they become more accessible practically and intellectually as well as financially.
Last week the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York announced that it is ending its universal pay-what-you-wish admissions policy in favor of a mandatory $25 fee for all adult visitors who cannot prove they are residents of New York. With this new standard, the Met creates a significant barrier to one of the most acclaimed collections of art in the world.
The Met’s announcement has been met with emphatic declarations that museums should be free. Museum professionals, museum scholars, and museumgoers are defending the idea that museums have value that should be shared with everyone regardless of income or residency and immigration status.
Part of the uproar over the Met’s decision is that, for so long, it was dedicated to being a free resource to everyone. The Met’s historical motivationsto instill white middle-class values and behavior in new New Yorkers and its historical mechanism the art of Western civilization are elitist at best, but those motivations and that mechanism don’t determine what visitors do when they walk up those steps on Fifth Avenue. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings look nothing like antiquities, but he learned about art from visiting the Met, an opportunity made possible by the fact that it was free.
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A Thread In A Very Complicated Fabric
According to Stephen Reily, the director of the Speed Art Museum, the answer to that question is more than a simple yes or no.
Admission charges get a lot of attention, and rightfully so, but its important to understand they are really just a thread in a very complicated fabric, Reily said. I know from my own experience, the admission charge is something that is really closely-related to the cost of membership, the cost of special exhibits, whether you charge for parking.
Reily said when he attended a meeting of the Association of Museum Directors in May 2017, a lot of the discussion centered around how museums are managing a variety of different goals.
You want the admission fee to be competitive when people look at the things they can spend money on, but it also relates really closely to how you get people to pay for membership, Reily said. We also want people to be in a long-term relationship with us as a museum and to be able to communicate with them, engage with them over time. And so charging admission is one way to incentivize membership. Other museums also charge for special exhibits, which can be extremely expensive.
For reference, the Speed expects to spend about $1 million this year on temporary exhibits.
In 2016, the Speed Art Museum announced their Owsley Sundays. Thanks to a contribution from Brown-Forman, anyone can visit the Speed for free on Sundays through March 2021. The free Sunday admission is named in honor of the late Owsley Brown II.
Museums Need To Think Outside The Budget Box
But according to Aldy Milliken, the executive director of KMAC, in addition to corporate sponsorships, museums increasingly need to think outside the box to cover their operating budget while staying accessible.
Museums need money to finance our operations, Milliken said. Thats just not a surprise and one of the things I really responded to with the Met situation was that it wasnt a particularly creative solution to reaching more earned income.
In a follow-up text, Milliken pointed to a new program at KMAC thats about to launch which will hopefully serve as an incentive for more people to become supporting members of the museum.
He wrote: KMAC Museum has partnered with local businesses to offer our members special discounts and to promote our local business owners.
Some of these partners include Quills Coffee, Craft Gallery, Proof on Main and Atlantic No. 5.
I think this conversation that the Metropolitan has inspired is, How are we going to pay for museums? Milliken said. What is the value of an institution? What are the broad-based ways we can support museums?
He continued: But what excites me right now about Louisville and the changes we are going through here with the remodel of KMAC, the new building at the Speed and even a place like 21c, is that were looking at different ways of activating people, Milliken said. In many ways we are more nimble and can determine new strategies and implement them at a much faster pace than a place like the Met.
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Should Museums Be Free Or Ticketed
Museum entrance fees for museums are significantly above the rate charged by museums in smaller cities, particularly those that attract tourists, according to the survey. If their counterparts have fewer international tourists or rely heavily on local visitors, its likely that they will charge less than their counterparts in other areas with international tourists and other sources of tourists.
What Are The Costs Of Operating A Museum
There are, not surprisingly, a lot of costs associated with running a museum and keeping it open to the public. The cost to maintain some sites, especially large historical buildings such as a historical home or a cathedral, can be astronomical.
A 2018 survey by the Association of Art Museums Directors of 210 art museums in North America , found that 39% had operating budgets under 5 million dollars, 21% between 5 and 10 million, 21% between 10 to 20 million, 12% from 20 to 45 million, and 8% had operating budgets over 45 million dollars.
Of course, it should be noted that the above survey focuses only on art museums. Many museums, such as small local and regional museums, have relatively small operating budgets and depend primarily on volunteers.
However, the types of costs facing art museums and other types of museums, both big and small, are generally the same sorts of things.
Here are some of the main costs typical for such a museum or attraction:
- Staff wages & training
- Fundraising activities
- Accounting fees, legal fees, taxes, insurance, and consultancy fees
The main costs for most museums are related to managing their collections. This includes curatorial duties, acquisition, management, display, security, conservation, storage, and education. The highest costs are generally related to paying staff wages and benefits to perform these duties.
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