Two years ago, when the Art Museum raised its prices by some hefty percentages, COO Gail M. Harrity said it would not be the last time. And she was right. Admission is going up again. No one would dispute the fact that the museum needs the money. But unfortunately, that issue hangs out there quite separately from the consequences of putting great art out of reach.
Realistically, how many visitors will be shut out or turned off? No one knows. But if you're two parents of two teenagers and wake up one morning feeling Rauschenbergian, it'll cost you $56 (plus parking) to walk in the door. That's the sort of figure that makes you think twice. Again, it's important to divorce this concept from the question of whether the museum needs the money or whether the experience is worth it. Will the move bring the museum more revenue if fewer people attend?
And you'll never really know who is suffering. Who would know, for instance, when a potential art lover looks up prices on the Art Museum's website and, totaling the figure for the day, simply moves on.
Of course, anyone for whom price is a barrier has long been able to go to the museum Sundays for free. Not anymore. Now it'll take some planning. Starting in July, only the first Sunday of the month is free. That takes planning. And it assumes you have no other commitment that day.
Some museums are moving in the opposite direction and are making access to their collections free. Roberta Smith of the Times wrote an interesting exploration of the issue a couple of years ago that's worth reading.
The Art Museum's new pricing structure seems craven in light of the extensive renovation and expansion project going on. The museum can raise (or finance) more than $600 million for a building project, but can't find the funding to stave off a price hike when times are tough (and perhaps just as tough for the majority of its visitors)? I don't know exactly how much the museum hopes its $2 increase will bring in. It's likely less than $1 million, which could be funded with about $20 million in new endowment. That's admittedly not an easy proposition in this climate, but it's disappointing nonetheless to see the museum building barriers to art.