On Friday, knowing many of us would be on our way to the weekend or Fourth of July vacays, the Philadelphia Museum of Art dumped some news it was likely hoping would be ignored: It’s raising its adult admissions fee from $16 to $20 and its youth charge from $12 to $14 (but is now allowing people to spread their visit over a two-day period).
As I’ve noted here repeatedly over the years, the PMA has some of the highest admissions fees of any American art museum. It routinely charges $25 for its exhibitions (plus fees, and a hefty additional parking charge is almost unavoidable). It can cost a family of four over $100 to visit the PMA. Even the New York Times, which reports and comments pretty much not at all on this issue, rolled its eyes at the PMA’s egregious fees this past weekend. MAN’s fuller examination of the PMA’s admissions fee approach is here. [Image of the PMA via Flickr user Rob Shenk.]
Some stats: In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011, the PMA spent $50.9 million on operating the museum. It brought in $3.9 million in admissions fees, meaning that admissions funded 7.6 percent of admissions. As American art museums go, that’s high. For a non-tourist-driven museum (think New York, San Francisco), it’s quite high indeed. Meanwhile, the PMA received lots of money from the city, both in terms of a grant and free utilities, $5.5 million in all. By comparison, MoMA charges $25 for admission, but receives no funds from New York taxpayers. (All figures in this paragraph come from the PMA’s most recent, audited financial statement.)
The PMA’s admissions charge is one of the art museum industry’s worst practices. A good step in fixing it would be making the museum free to students, everyone under 21 and to the Philadelphians who already support it with their taxes. Instead the museum is still trying to price out all but the upper middle class.
I guess the much-admired Zoe Strauss exhibition and the many opportunities for access the museum provided to it was just a head-fake. You could almost say that the museum took advantage of the Strauss show to cozy up to a broad swath of Philadelphia… just before making it harder for the overwhelming majority of Philadelphians to visit.