museums be free?
question some in the cultural travel community are asking following news of a class action lawsuit
filed in early March against one of the world’s most prestigious, expensive and
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is accused of
deceptive ticketing practices, according to a suit filed by attorney Arnold
Weiss on behalf of three museum visitors. The lawsuit charges that the museum
leads people to believe the $25 fee is required rather than merely recommended,
and seeks compensation for all visitors who paid the full price via credit card
over the last few years.
attracts some six million visitors per year, all of whom encounter a sign at
the ticketing line trumpeting the museum’s $25 adult admission fee. In smaller
type just below is the word “recommended”. As a result, some 40% of Met
visitors pay the full ticket price.
The Met has
countered that its policy has been in place for more than 40 years.
raises questions about the pricing of museums across the US, which range from
free to a recommended fee to mandatory ticket fee. This is in contrast to some
the UK, where all national museums are free.
survey of 30 top US museums by The Art Newspaper found that the root of the
debate lies in a philosophical divide. In one camp are museums focused on
generating revenue, while the other camp believes museums should be free
museums surveyed by the paper, nearly half do not charge general admission.
They tended to be in smaller cities, such as Ohio’s Cleveland Museum of Art and Kansas City,
Missouri’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Museums in larger cities, such as New York’s Met and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, tended to charge high entry
to the survey, “museums in major cities – especially those that attract
tourists – by and large charge for entry. Their counterparts in areas with fewer
international tourists or which rely on local visitors are more likely to be
free because they need those visitors to return.”
words, a city’s “tourism desirability” can make the difference between free
admission and a hefty fee.
museums were to adopt free admission policies, support mechanisms would need to
be in place. Among them would be strong government grant programmes for the
arts, more private donations and a revived culture of philanthropy, whereby
members of the public participate in membership programs to support cultural
tourists eager for free museum admission should bypass big cities for smaller,
lesser-known ones, or otherwise target free and affordable options in big
cities like the Smithsonian museums in
Washington DC (which uniquely have free admission as a national trust).
What do you think? Should museums be free for
all? Let us know on our Facebook page.