Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Duly Noted: Museum Access Trends

I'm just catching up on a study released a couple of month back by the American Association of Museums. Overall, the study found that attendance at museums increased over the past few years. But it also notes the following:

One effect of the weak economy in 2009 was an increase in the number of museums that charge a general admission fee: 65.7% versus 59% in 2008 (according to AAM’s Museum Financial Information survey). Indeed, 14.2% of museums in the current survey reported an increase or implementation of general admission fees in 2009.

Museums that charge a general admission fee were less likely to experience increased attendance in 2009 than museums that did not charge a fee.

The median price for an adult admission was $7.00, unchanged since 2008 (and still cheaper than the average movie ticket).

To increase their accessibility, many of the museums that charged admission in 2009 also added free days (28.7%) or offered new discounts to local residents (17.5%).

Can I just say ahem, median price for admission $7???? This seems unheard of in Toronto, and increasingly against the grain in the rest of Canada. Even the National Gallery in Ottawa, which generally has more progressive access/possibly more federal funding than other major Canadian galleries, charges $9 a pop for the permanent collection.

Also, worth noting for our Toronto-area museums (ROM and Ontario Science Centre, I'm looking at you... as well as the Gardiner) many museums that charged admission in 2009 added free days or offered discounts to local residents. Would love to see this in Toronto, where we have the fee hike trend down pat. Dare to dream!

Image from Concert Commission


Michael M said...

Hey, Leah,

The study report doesn't give enough information to really tell what the $7 median means ... does this include museums that don't charge? What qualifies as a museum for the purposes of the study? et cetera et cetera.

If there are ten museums in our fine city, and four of them charge $20+ for admission, but six charge nothing, the median charge is $0.

More importantly, there are many studies that look at admissions and attendance in the UK, which shows that (not surprisingly) no admission fees lead to higher attendance. The question is, could a well developed donor campaign be attached to a no-admission fee policy, much akin to the free admissions to the Powerplant during the summer.

Likewise, could a much reduced admission fee structure, if applied across the board (e.g. no free admission for membership), lead to the building of a much more receptive and much larger pool for lower-level donations which would offset the lower ticket revenue. These are things that our institutions should be investigating ... instead of focussing primarily on large gifts and the attendant higher costs of servicing those gifts -- and, to boot, increasing attendance which increases public awareness of the importance of governmental support of arts and culture ...

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Michael,

Thanks for your thoughts. I do know the median is the "middle numbers" of an array of numbers, and that this study applies to American museums only....

Or, in other words, I know my fly-off-the-handleness about the museums admissions issue in Toronto/Canada affects how I read and focus on certain data only! I hear you on that.

I do think our national situation could benefit from some accurate analysis and tracking of around admissions fees, attendance, etc. I don't see the Canadian Museums Association or CAMDO doing similar research... why has only the States got this going on? Some research of this kind would be an excellent starting point for discussions around funding and access structures (or lack thereof) in our institutions.

To be clear to other readers, I understand very well that museums need money in order to operate. I totally get that. I want artists to be paid. I want curators to be paid. I want installers to be paid. Heck, I even want directors to be paid, even if it's not to the tune of a million dollars a year.

But, like Michael, I often wonder if the funding model currently in place for Canadian museums truly does fulfill the mandates upon which our museums have been founded -- to provide public access to public collections. Truly, I say, charge all you want for temporary exhibitions! Hold all the crazy fundraising balls you want! Just *at least* give the public reasonable access to public collections, which are, after all, maintained (and donation-tax-receipted) in the public trust.