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A Question of Admission: Museum Entry

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, December 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Policies - Dallas Museum of Art & the Metropolitan

This week the Dallas Museum of Art announced a reward- based system for visitors. The entry to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) will be free beginning in January 2013; the more visitors return to the museum the more perks they will gain access to. Special events and opportunities to interact with museum staff and exhibiting artist to be included as some perks for returning visitors. In many institutions events like these are often reserved for sliding scales of donor groups. These rewards are reserved for those who can and do suport financially. The philosophy now being adopted by DMA is one open to and receptive of the patronage of guests, and in review of the definition of patronage- the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another rewards the former descriptions of the term. True of the more traditional model that it is nice to be thanked for monetary donations- would opening the door to additional genuinely interested attendees detract from thanks? Would it potentially cultivate new donors? Could it attract new generations of makers and enthusiasts? DMA Director Maxwell Anderson commented on the policy: "Visitors literally bring life to the Dallas Museum of Art. Through a return to free general admission, we can open the doors of the museum and show appreciation to our visitors for the many ways their participation matters to the DMA. We believe that by increasing access to the museum and by finding new ways to say 'thank you,' we can fundamentally change the role museums play in a global society" (Art Forum).

This week too news regarding the entry to the Metropolitan was in the headlines. In a report by Philip Boroff of Businessweek came a story of a lawsuit over the Metropolitan's "recommended" entry fee. A clarity of entry requirements was requested by plaintiffs; though the museum's entry is free "recommended" entry, particularly in online ticket ordering, is being called unclear. Museum visitors too often have the impression that the $25 recommended entry fee is required. The issue was raised as it is in conflict with the leasing ageeement the museum has. In 1878 the museum, in exhange for no rent, agreed to free admission of visitors four days of the week. In later leases the requirement was modified to five days a week. A volunteer entry was instated in the early 1970's- anything large or small- was asked of patrons. In recent years, and again particularly with advanced online ticket purchases, visitors are charged the recommended fee. Plaintiffs in "the case have asked the court to order the museum to update all modify its signs and promotional materials to prevent viewers from being misled about the policy, specifically informing visitors that the museum is free of charge five days of the week. Plaintiffs have also requested that the museum reinstate its entrance fronting Central Park, which was removed in 1902" (Art Forum). The fact that the approach is tricky is clear; certainly with entry fees paying only about one quarter of the operations revenue the money is welcome if not needed.

While the two museums have very different operational and budget scenarios, and DMA has charged entry in the past, these two examples allude to the difficulties of the industry. Patronage and cultivation of interest in viewership have become distressing issues for the survival of major cultural institutions. What is most interesting about the two stories are the philosophies around their models of operation. In a time where government funding for the arts is waning what will save the institution? What will generate interest and save the cultural ship? These questions seem to have been raised more and more in recent years, and this weeks dual stories poignantly continue that dialogue.

For more information on both of these stories please visit (Art Forum).

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