Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Admission fee ups & downs at ROM, Gardiner

Last week when I went to the Gardiner Museum, I noticed that their once-free Friday evenings had been changed to half-price. This is a bit of a shame, as the Gardiner was setting a progressive access model for its neighbouring ROM when it continued to maintain some free access after their own pricy renovations even though the ROM did not.

But the ROM's nowhere near consistent on admission fees either. In addition to bumping up adult ticket prices from $20 to $22 earlier this year, the ROM now says on their homepage that entry will be free for some kids on December 20 and 21, as well as on January 1. The rule is "One FREE CHILD ADMISSION (aged 4-14) with each regular paying adult, senior or student."

Too bad for parents with more than two kids? Or single parents with more than one?

In other news, the ROM was referenced recently by the Toronto Zoo as it bumped up its own admission fee to by $1 to $21 for adults. The Zoo's rationale? That "the fee would still be below that for other attractions such as the ROM."

Funny, I seem to remember that when the ROM bumped up its own fee from $15 to $20 back in June 2007, they referenced the zoo as a comparable. This upsets me because now public institutions seem to think that all they need to rationalize admission fees hikes are to point fingers at the fees of other public institutions. And up and up we go. In a fairer system, ticket fees should be set in accordance with what the public can actually afford. And free hours should most definitely remain.

This leaves only a few art museums maintaining free evenings in Toronto: The AGO, the Textile Museum and the Power Plant on Wednesdays, and the MOCCA maintaining a refreshing PWYC policy every day of the week.


Anonymous said...

As an added bonus to this admissions-price debacle is that Toronto is a mean, mean place for students. Student discount rates are usually about $2 - $5 off of the regular (exorbitant) price, if there is one at all. Comparably, institutions in Montreal give students about half off.

Gabby said...

Admission prices are an interesting issue in museum studies. In one of my seminars last year on museum and gallery issues and policies, we read an article about how the Ontario Science Centre, which at the time charged $18 for an adult and was the highest admission price in the city for a cultural institution, was still the most attended venue. In other words, admission price is not necessarily a barrier to access or attendance so long as visitors think the experience is worth the price. We heard a similar rationale from a museum consultant who helped with the AGO renovations when she explained their planned admission price increases.

Gabby said...

So I guess the question is whether the visitor experience offered by the ROM or AGO is more compelling or entertaining than that offered by the zoo or the Science Centre, since families won't be making more money any time soon and will have to choose which venue to spend their hard-earned cash on.

Leah Sandals said...

I wonder if Science Center attendance might be bolstered by visiting school groups, who get a discount rate? It's also the only sciencey place in town.

In terms of attendance rates, of course the cheaper or free places still have to promote themselves to expect attendance rates to rise.

Still, I'm won over by the stat that after British museums were made free, attendance rose by 83% at museums that had previously charged for entry. http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2006/12/04/uk-museums-admission.html

When Baltimore made museums free for a month, attendance rose by 34%. http://www.washblade.com/2006/11-17/locallife/feature/feature.cfm

Yes, free admission has to come with promotion to be effective; and it needs to be long-term, and include programming that addresses the needs of the public.

But when a museum offers one free hour a week (as the ROM) or zero (as per the Gardiner) they are setting themselves up to lose the public they were instituted to educate. (Still issuing tax receipts for same all the while...)

Leah Sandals said...

Also, 30% of Toronto families rating as poor (http://www.thestar.com/poverty) there is no way regular prices should be $20-range. $10-$12 at the outside, I say, plus free evenings and other access programs.

A regular family rate on the part of the ROM (like the AGO and many other museums have) would also be appreciated in terms of access. For a family of four, it costs $80 or so, compared to $45 at the AGO.

I should also clarify that I don't think money for this stuff magically drops out of the sky. Museums have to lobby and fundraise for it. But they managed to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars for their fab building projects--why not for the people? I think they can do it, they just don't want to.

Gabby said...

Yeah, holding big art galas (Harper's favourites!) for things like operational costs and keeping admission prices for families low isn't super sexy from a branding and marketing perspective, unfortunately.

Though there is something to be said (maybe) for sponsored free nights, like the MoMA's Target Free Fridays (http://www.moma.org/visit_moma/admissions.html). That's another gallery that is ridiculously, unaffordably expensive normally, but the free evenings make art goers aware of Target's presence in an effective but non-distracting way.

As for the Science Centre, I dunno if it's the subject matter that necessarily pulls people in rather than the promise that you get to touch stuff and make cool machines work and let your kids run around and scream. Same goes for the zoo. The Harbourfront Centre galleries are often pretty good at straddling the line between the two by bringing in cool projects by contemporary artists (like the gardens and their rotating programming int he York Quay Galleries) while still being kid- and family-friendly.

And all of this is not to say that it is every cultural institution's job to be kid-/family-friendly. But it would be great if comprehensive collections like the AGO and ROM were since it seems a waste of such amazing objects.

Leah Sandals said...

Agreed! (On the need for projects that welcome a broader public, families and otherwise. If it can be done elsewhere, why not here?)

I've only been to the Science Centre once, for the IMAX. Does that count?

I do recall loving the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature as a wee tot. Science is coolio. Or maybe is it because the Science Centre is in the burbs & has parking? Could this drive up its numeros?

Anyway, I wish I had taken that museum studies class... I loves me a good argument.