On Sunday, October 1st, 2006, twenty museums across Los Angeles will participate in the second annual Museums Free-For-All, by opening their doors to the public absolutely free of charge. The Free-For-All concept is a refreshing change from the worrying drift towards rising admission prices for national art museums, and while the day provides relief – it is clearly not enough. Since the inception of this web log, I’ve been writing about museum ticket prices and their impact upon America’s cultural life. In November of 2004, I wrote the following – pouring scorn on New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) for setting an unwelcome wallet-lightening standard:
“MoMA’s steep admission price marks an ominous trend – that of transforming art museums into privatized establishments where only the wealthy can afford entry. While a $20 dollar ticket will not prevent most people from visiting once a year, only rich persons can afford to be regular guests. All of society will suffer as a consequence. Gone are the days when art students and other aspiring artists could pore over a museum’s collection at little or no cost. High entry fees constitute an irreparable loss for low income people seeking inspiration and stimulation from art. The terrible irony is that, as in the past, up and coming artists can’t afford steep admission prices to view great works of art. MoMA has effectively abandoned its most celebrated purpose – that of being an institution that inspires artists.”
Unfortunately, things have changed little since I wrote those words, and MoMA is no longer alone when it comes to being the country’s most expensive art museum. In July of this year, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art also raised its door price to $20, which will surely be followed by admission increases for other museums. All the more reason to revel in LA’s Free-For-All, an event that should not only be celebrated, but expanded to include every museum in the country.
UPDATE 2011: New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) both raised their admission fees in 2011.
MoMA will begin charging $25 for entry starting September 1, 2011. A museum spokesperson attributed the admission price increase to “escalating costs in virtually all aspects of operating the museum.” Here it should be noted that museum director Glenn Lowry was paid $1.6 million in 2009. As reported by Bloomberg news agency, MoMA’s 2009-2010 tax returns show Lowry received a salary and bonus of $830,000, free housing in MoMA’s luxury condominium valued at $318,000, as well as $403,635 in retirement compensation. It must be assumed Mr. Lowry continues to receive that same compensation – even as MoMA raises entry fees for the public.
In July of 2011, the Metropolitan Museum of Art also raised its $20 admission price to $25. The Met’s director, Thomas Campbell, was paid $929,735 in fiscal year 2009.