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Jesse Agro

AAD 350 : Financial Management for the Arts 1


Dr. Jung, Yuha
Position: Free or Paid Admission

The concept of free or paid admission for art museums has become a muddled and
complex issue over the past few decades. While many artists, administrators, and audiences
have taken a bold stance on a seemingly black and white issue, museums of the modern age
have seated themselves in an interesting gray area. This issue has evolved beyond free or not
free, and examines more museums relationships with communities and patrons-
accommodations made, exemptions allowed, etc. Whether it be free admission on certain days
or suggested donations rather than set costs, todays art museums are often far more flexible
than public opinion. For purposes of sustainability and integrity, art museums should absolutely
have the right to charge admission, but they should also be required to make accommodations
to this charge so that they may be accessible to all audiences.
Director of the Metropolitan Art Museum, Philippe de Montebello, begged the question
What is it about art that it shouldnt be paid for? at a 2002 Harvard University panel (Smith).
The question was in response to the larger question at hand- whether art museums should be
allowed to charge admission. Given Americas current financial climate, which feeds into the
lack of funding for the arts across state and federal government bodies, the most economic
answer would be yes. To force art museums to rely on fading government funding and in turn
have to compromise on their own programs would degrade the purpose of these institutions.
The Delaware Art Museum is an excellent example of this. In 2014, the museum announced its
decision to sell two of its masterpieces in order to avoid bankruptcy (Fishman). This decision
came with a host of unwanted consequences, including its revoked accreditation from the
American Alliance of Museums, as well as its rejection from other artistic circles and
organizations. Art museums, in order to sustain their program services and not compromise on
their integrity, should thus be allowed to implement an admission cost. In the words of the
Guardians Jonathan Jones, In tough times, is it better for museums to sell off their treasures,
to cut back staff, to shrink and dwindle, or to charge an entrance fee? (Mallonee).
However, while this makes a great deal of sense from an economic perspective,
museums must also align this practice with their mission and purpose. Art museums fulfill a role
in society that goes beyond entertainment. They are institutions of education and cultural
enrichment as well, and thus cannot be treated in the same way as a movie theatre or sporting
event. A thriving society with a healthy public culture does not treat education and enrichment as
exclusive to a specific economic demographic. Art museums, just like libraries, exist for the
public, and thus have to adapt to needs and limitations of the people they serve. There a
hundreds of ways to go about accommodating lower income patrons, limited only to the
creativity and capability of the organization. Whether it be free admission on certain days,
suggested donations over static costs, or accepting payment in volunteer hours, art museums
should always have an outlet for reduced or waived admission charges.
Art museums are required to look beyond numbers and profit, because their worth is
beyond monetary value. Enrichment cannot be calculated with a dollar sign, which is why this
issue must balance the needs of these organizations with the needs of the people they serve.
This is why art museums should have the right to charge admission, while patrons are also
given the opportunity to access art museums for free.

Fishman, Margie. "Delaware Art Museum Loses Accreditation."Delawareonline. USA Today,


20 June 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.

Mallonee, Laura C. "Looking at the Data Behind Free Museum Admission." Hyperallergic.
Hyperallergic Media Inc., 17 Aug. 2015. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.

Smith, Roberta. "Should Art Museums Always Be Free? Theres Room for Debate." The
New York Times. The New York Times Company, 22 July 2006. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.