As with public libraries, art museums should exist to serve the public. The mission of educating, inspiring, and uplifting society has been the calling of art museums… thus far. The erstwhile objective of enriching the social order has evidently been abandoned in favor of the profit motive. New York’s Museum of Modern Art is charging a $20 entrance fee and the Metropolitan Museum of Art will begin charging $15 this coming January. The Boston Fine Arts Museum charges $15 and the Chicago Art Institute asks for $12.
Where I live, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) gets $9 for general admission but requests more for special exhibits. It’s asking a steep $17 to view Renoir to Matisse, the museum’s collection of 53 masterwork paintings. For its upcoming June 2005 Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit, LACMA will be asking a whopping $30 per adult for the weekends (when most working people will be able to attend). When the treasures of Tut were exhibited at the New York Met in 1978, admission was $2.
The message is clear, those of limited financial means will increasingly have insufficient access to art and culture. Art museums have been and must remain public institutions. If humanity’s cultural heritage is privatized and right of entry given only to those who can afford a costly ticket, then we all suffer. Do I exaggerate? Try imagining your local library charging a hefty admission fee.