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COLUMN: Art museums shouldn't charge money for admission

The Metropolitan Museum of Art  in New York Cityhas recently changed its admission policy, now charging a $25 entrance fee for out of state visitors. Before, the policy allowed visitors to pay whatever they were able, no matter where they were from. Art museums, especially the Met, should be public and accessible to anyone, not just those who are able to pay the steep admission price.

This situation is not exclusive to the Met. Newfields, previously the Indianapolis Museum of Art, charged $18 for adult admission beginning in April 2015. The admission was formerly free.  

According to the Association of Art Museum Directors, admissions account for an average of 5 percent of a museum’s total revenue. The Met earns 12 percent of its revenue from admissions. 

While this percentage is not necessarily negligible, having a mandatory admissions fee has been met with outrage.  New Yorker writer Alexandra Schwartz tweeted "The wonder of the Met is that it's as open to the public as Central Park. You can walk in with not a penny in your pocket and see some of the greatest art in the world. That's an ethical mission. Crazy that the Met is willing to renounce it."

 Public and corporate donations can be revenue sources as well. For example, public donations made up the difference when the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston eliminated admission fees, and many individuals or groups may be more willing to donate when the art is free and more accessible.

It is not even necessary to completely abolish these entrance fees. The system in place before was that all visitors paid whatever they could, with a suggested fee of $25. Many were able to pay the full price, although that number decreased through the years from 63 percent of visitors in 2004 to 17 percent of visitors in 2017. The important factor is those who cannot pay the full price were able to receive entry with only a penny if need be.

Many museums have certain days of the week that offer free admission, which the Met could also try. This is an effective method of creating a large and diverse group of visitors. For example, the amount of nonwhite visitors in the Baltimore Museum tripled during the museum’s free hours. Museums should prioritize making their art accessible to marginalized groups, not just rich white patrons.

Cultivating this diverse audience is vital for museums like the Met, which display some of the most distinguished and revered art in the entire world. Museums exist to educate, not to sell. There is a reason the art is displayed in a museum — to be admired and analyzed by everyone and not just the home of a rich person. 

Art museums, as public and community spaces, should make it their priority to make their art as accessible as possible. After all, if libraries are open for the public to come look at and read books for free, then art museums should be able to do the same thing.

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