Thursday, September 10, 2009

News Flash: The Royal Ontario Museum Is Still Performing Poorly on Public Access

In a decided switch from my usual gallery-and-laptop scene, part of my day today was spent making a presentation to the Standing Committee on Government Agencies at the Ontario Legislature.

The committee is currently undertaking a review of the Royal Ontario Museum, which is one of its agencies. From what I understood, the review is not for any special reason, just part of a regular review rotation that the committee has for its agencies.

My news flash to the committee can be summarized as follows: The Royal Ontario Museum is Still Performing Poorly on Public Access.

In other words,

  • The museum is mandated, as one of its "primary and defining reponsibilities" to provide physical and intellectual access to its collection to Ontarians, Canadians and international visitors, including the minimizing of economic barriers to access
  • Nevertheless, the ROM has what my research shows to be the most expensive admission-fee structure in Canada, and one of the most expensive admission-fee structures in the world: $22 for adults, $17 for students (high school only) and seniors, $15 for those aged 4 to 14
  • Furthermore, the ROM has rejected common-practice museum techniques for overcoming admission fee barriers and providing for public access, most notably free one-evening-a-week admission and family-package pricing
  • What access measures the ROM has instead—1,800 passes per month distributed through agencies like the Toronto Public Library, the United Way and the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, along with a couple of other token measures—are well-intentioned, but are not sufficient to filling the access gap in the least. (Ontario has 12 million people, a median income of $27,000, and its highest jobless rate in 15 years going on right now—meaning that these access initiatives are reaching less than one percent of the people who by rights should be able to access the ROM collection. The current programs are also extremely Toronto-centric, mostly unavailable outside of the GTA.)
  • To raise the ROM's performance on its public access mandates to a satisfactory level, I recommend, at a minimum (a) reinstituting a free evening (the ROM had this as recently as 2002/3) (b) reducing general admission fees to movie-ticket levels (c) instituting family package pricing.
  • Finally, though the ROM may find improving its public access a challenge, it is a challenge for all museums—and, according to my research, the vast majority of other museums regionally, nationally and internationally have figured out how to meet that challenge much more satisfactorily than the ROM. So it's fair to conclude that improving access at the ROM is just as feasible as it has been at other museums.
I don't know how the committee will use the information I presented, but it was certainly an education attending the session. The other presenters—the ROM director and board, as well as ROM partners like Earth Rangers, Tourism Toronto and Attractions Ontario—were all pretty rah-rah about the museum's performance.

Some of the material and research that I handed off to the committee members is posted after the jump. I also found this article on free admission from the American Association of Museums a good read.

Image of the ROM from Designlines Magazine

Museum admission fees and access programs: A brief sampling compiled by Leah Sandals
Approximately ordered from most expensive to least expensive, or from least public access to most public access

Royal Ontario Museum
$22 adults
$19 students (high school only) and seniors
$15 children aged 4 to 14
Half-price Friday nights from 4:30pm to 9:30pm
Free admission for Canadian post secondary students on Tuesdays
MAP Pass program (partial)
Cultural Access Pass program
Selected free tickets given to United Way for distribution

Ontario Science Centre
Adult $18
Senior $13.50
Youth 13 to 17 $13.50
Child 4 to 12 years $11
Free/$2 tickets for organizations serving low-income people (arranged in advance)
Free for special needs people if arranged in advance
MAP pass program (partial)

Vancouver Art Gallery
$20.50 for adults
$16 for seniors
$15 for students
$7 for children aged 4 to 14
Family admission fee of $50 for two adults and two children
“By donation” Tuesday evenings sponsored by Sun Life Financial, 5 to 9pm

Museum of Modern Art, New York
Adults $20
Seniors $16
Students $12
Children 16 and under Free
Free admission Friday Nights from 4 to 8 pm sponsored by Target

Guggenheim Museum, New York
Adults $18
Students and seniors $15
Children under 12 free
Pay what you wish Saturdays from 5:45pm to 7:45pm

Art Gallery of Ontario
Adults $18
Seniors $15
Youth 6 to 17 $10
Children 5 and under Free
Family (2 adults and up to 5 youths) $45
Free Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8:30pm, sponsored by the Catherine & Maxwell Meighen Foundation
Free for Ontario teachers with valid ID
Free for Ontario high school students with valid ID Tuesday to Friday 3:30 to 5:30
MAP pass program (full)
Cultural Access Pass program

Art Institute of Chicago
Adults $18
Children over 14, Students and Seniors $12
Children under 14 Free
Discount of $2 for Chicago residents with proof of residency
Free for Chicago police and firefighters
Free for active members of the US military
Free for disabled US veterans
Free evening Thursdays 5 to 8pm all year
Two free evenings per week during the summer (Thursday 5 to 9 and Friday 5 to 9)
Free the entire month of February
Each school group participant receives a free family pass to return free with his or her whole family at a later date
Free admission for holders of the Chicago Public Library museum passes.

The Field Museum, Chicago
Adults $15 ($13 for Chicago residents)
Children ages 3 to 11 $10 ($9 for Chicago residents)
Students with ID $12 ($11 for Chicago residents)
Seniors $12 ($11 for Chicago residents)
Free very second Monday of the month all day, sponsored by Target
34 more free admission days, mostly in fall, winter and spring
Free admission week February 1 to 6
(Basic admission includes seeing the world’s largest and most complete T rex)

Glenbow Museum
Adult (18+) $14
Senior (65+) $10
Student (with valid ID) $9
Youth (ages 7-17) $9
Family (2 adults, up to 4 youth) $28
Child (Ages 6 and under) Free

McCord Museum of Canadian History
Adults $13
Seniors (65 and over) $10
Students (full time) $7
Children 6 to 12 years $5
Children 5 and under Free
Families (4 people max 2 adults) $26
Free admission the first Saturday of each month from 10am to 12pm.

New Museum, New York
Adults $12
Seniors $10
Students $8
18 and under Free
Free admission for Youth sponsored by Target
Free Thursday evenings sponsored by CIT

Canadian Museum of Civilization
Adults $12
Seniors and Students $10
Children aged 3 to 12 $8
Families (5 people, maximum 2 adults) $30
Free every Thursday evening from 4 to 8pm
Free on International Museums Day (May 18)
Free on Canada Day (July 1)
Free on Remembrance Day (November 11)

Canadian War Museum
Adults $12
Seniors and Students $10
Children aged 3 to 12 $8
Families (5 people, maximum 2 adults) $30
Free every Thursday evening from 4 to 8pm
Free on International Museums Day (May 18)
Free on Canada Day (July 1)
Free on Remembrance Day (November 11)

Australian Museum
Adults $12
Child 5 to 15 years $6
Child under 5 Free
Family (2 adults, 2 children) $20
Family (1 adult, 2 children) $18
Additional children $3 each
Seniors, students, unemployed & disabled $8

Canadian Centre for Architecture
Adults $10
Seniors $7
Students Free
Children Free
Free Thursday evenings

Dallas Museum of Art
Adults $10
Senior citizens $7
Students and Military Personnel $5
Children under 12 Free
Free First Tuesday of each month
Free Thursday evenings from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m.
Art Gallery of Alberta
Adults: $10
Seniors/Students: $7

Children 6 to 12 Years: $5

Children 5 Years and under: Free
Family (2 adults + up to 4 children): $20
“Pay What you May” Thursday evenings 4-8pm

Royal Tyrrell Museum
Adult (18-64) $10.00 (one day) $15 (two day)
Senior (65+) $8.00 (one day) $12 (two day)
Youth (7-17) $6.00 (one day) $9 (two day)
Children (6 and under) Free
Family (2 adults and their children to a max group size of 8) $30.00

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Adults $10.00
Seniors $8.00
Students $5.00
Youth (6-17yrs) $3.00
Children (5 & under) free
Family Rate (2 adults & 3 youths) $20.00
Admission by Donation every Thursday evening from 5 to 9pm

Vancouver Maritime Museum
$10 for adults
$7.50 for seniors
$7.50 for youth aged 6 to 18
Family admission fee of $25

National Gallery of Canada
Permanent collection adult admission $9 (for special exhibitions as well, $15)
Permanent collection senior and student admission $7 (for spec exb as well, $12)
Youth 12 to 19 $4 (for spec exb as well, $7)
Family (2 adults, 3 children) $18 (for special exhibition as well, $30)
Children under 12 Free (special exhibitions are free)
Free admission to the permanent collection every Thursday evening, 5 to 9 pm
Free Monday May 18 – International Museums Day
Free July 1 – Canada Day

Louvre Museum, Paris
Adult 9 euro during the day
Adult 6 euro Wednesday and Friday evenings
Free for all people under 18 years of age
Free for those under 26 on Friday evenings
Free for handicapped persons and their assistants
Free for the unemployed and those on social benefits
Free for all the first Sunday of every month

Manitoba Museum
Adults $8 (w/ Science Gallery $13.50)
Youth 3 to 17 years $6.50 (w/ Science Gallery $10)
Student $6.50 (w/ Science Gallery $10)
Senior $6.50 (w/ Science Gallery $10)
Family $26.50 (w/ Science Gallery $45.25)

Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art
Adults $8
Seniors $6
Students $4
Families (4 people, at least 1 adult) $16
Children under 12 free
Free admission every Wednesday evening from 6 to 9 pm
Unlimited admission all year for $10

Prado Museum, Madrid
Daytime Adult 8 euro
Daytime EU citizens with large families 4 euro
Daytime Foreign students under 25 4 euro
Daytime Youth card holders 4 euro
Children under 18 Free
EU citizens over 65 Free
EU citizens who are unemployed Free
EU students under 25 Free
Free to all 6 to 8pm Tuesday to Saturday and 5 to 8 Sunday

Canada Science and Technology Museum
Adults $7.50
Students and seniors $5
Children aged 4 to 14 $3.50
Family (2 adults and 3 children) $18
Free from 4pm to 5pm daily
Free admission on May 18, International Museums Day
Free admission on Canada Day

The Rooms
Adults $7.50
Seniors $5
Children (5 and Under) Free
Children/Youth (6-16) $4
Students $5
Family (max. 2 Adults, 2 Youth) $20
Free admission Wednesday nights from 6pm to 9pm
Free admission the first Saturday of each month (November - May)

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Permanent collection – free at all times to all
Special exhibitions adult $15 ($7.50 on Wednesday evenings)
Special exhibitions student $7.50
Special exhibitions seniors $10 ($7.50 on Wednesday evenings)
Special exhibitions children under 12 Free
Special exhibitions Family (four people, max 2 adults) $30 ($15 on Wednesday evenings)

Musee National des beaux-arts du Quebec
Permanent collection – free at all times to all
Temporary exhibitions adults $15
Temporary exhibitions seniors $12
Temporary exhibitions students $7
Temporary exhibitions youth aged 12 to 17 $4
Temporary exhibitions family rate (5 people, max 2 adults) $30

Cincinnati Art Museum
Free every day it is open (Tues-Sun)
Free daily admission is sponsored by the Richard and Lois Rosenthal Foundation.
Saturday's free admission is made possible by the Thomas J. Emery Free Day Endowment.
Free general admission for children is made possible in part through an endowment established by Cincinnati Financial Corporation/The Cincinnati Insurance Companies.

Natural History Museum, London UK
British Museum, London UK
Portrait Gallery, London UK
Tate Modern, London UK
Victoria & Albert Museum, London UK
Permanent collection free for all
Sponsored by the British Government

Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Free for all at all times

Smithsonian Museums, Washington
Free for all at all times

Museum of Natural History, New York
Admission by suggested donation at all times (can enter for free)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Admission by suggested donation at all times (can enter for free)

Baltimore Museum of Art
Free admission to the permanent collection for all visitors all the time
Occasionally, additional admission fees for special temporary exhibitions
Year-round free admission is made possible this year thanks to generous grants from the City of Baltimore and Baltimore County, with additional support from The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds, and the T. Rowe Price Associates Foundation. Ongoing support for free admission at the BMA has been provided through generous endowment gifts from the Cohen Family Fund for Free Admission, Lord Baltimore Capital Corporation, and Mary J. and James D. Miller.

Frye Art Museum, Seattle
Always Free


Marissa Neave said...

Wow, thanks for all of those price listings! I've been interested in the differences in student pricing between Toronto and Montreal for a while now. Whenever I visit Montreal I am amazed by the steep discounts that students get (namely with museums and public transit). It seems that, unfortunately, Toronto in general hasn't really caught on to how effective this trend can be.

pixo said...

I live in Toronto and I cannot remember the last time I visited the ROM. Even with the extension - the crystal structure, there is not enough interest to get me to visit it. I went to Washington DC last year, visited the free museums at the Mall, and enjoyed it immensely. Visited New York two years ago, and enjoyed the MET and a walk in Central Park. Same with Chicago a few years back with its art museum located next to its water front park. The urge to check out the Toronto museum is just not there. I also have not been to the AGO, since its reopening. May be if the AGO and ROM are located some where near High Park, they will feel more like places that welcome people to visit, relax, and enjoy what they have to offer.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey guys,

Thanks for your comments.

Montreal in general is more affordable than Toronto, with the provincial government also providing a lot of cultural supports.

But it also, I think, makes a commitment to affordability in its museums--as well as cooperation between different museums to promote themselves -- you can actually get a museum-pass card for 34 museums, 3-days, $45. And if you want transit included, it's just $50 more. Amazing collaboration there.

I also think a reduced admission fee & free evenings at the ROM could make it friendlier to locals to drop by for a visit--and even see if they like it! According to the tourism folks, the ROM's good with attracting non-Ont visitors (and in fact is trying to attract them more and more thorugh promotions) but I do wonder what the resident visitorship is.

If I understood correctly, the committee may be asking the ROM for more demographic studies of their visitorship, which I think would be really important to see.

Leah Sandals said...

Oops, that should be "$5 more" for transit. The 3-day Montreal museums pass is $50 when transit is included.

No such pass program/promotion exists here in Toronto. The closest is the commercially run CityPass program, which encompasses the zoo, the ROM, Casa Loma, the CN Tower and the Science Centre for $59. That is a big discount if you're going to see them all, BUT it seems like such a big discount becuase the admission fees are so high in the first place. Which reminds me -- yesterday I also learned/was reminded that the CN Tower is federally operated. Which makes me rethink thier steep entry prices too.

Anonymous said...

You are so completely right on the money- literally. It is a shame how administration can loose site of the most important things a museum/gallery should stand for: informing the audience.
So often the audience is forgotten...