Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Philly Museum becomes more exclusive

Pin It

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.

Pin It


  1. Julia Halperin says:

    I find additional fees to view special exhibitions almost more offensive than a high gate. It’s as if the museum believes curatorial legwork only appeals to the most wealthy visitors. It makes me sad.

  2. stuart roberts says:

    i completely agree. i’ve been a member for 5 years & have always been ranting against their contemptuous special exhibition policy which only allows a member to see a show once without having to pay another $25. as a member of moma ,i saw de kooning & matisse 5 times & could’ve gone as much as i want. if i wanted to see arcadia or van gogh here 5 times, it would cost me an additional $100. it totally disgusts me that this is the city i live in & matisse’s bathers by the river is here & if i want to see it more than once i’ve got to pay $25 each time. there is also no way for a non member to see the show without paying $25. in ny every museum has a free or pay what you want night so if you’re willing to wait in line a bit, you can see anything you want. this leads to a cultural city. people hear about a show & then want to go see it. that doesn’t happen with pma (except for the zoe strauss show which is a one time thing because there is only one zoe strauss.)when i talk to artists noone cares whats at pma because it feels like the museum is only for wealthy people. i’ve been blocked from commenting on the museum’s facebook page for comparing their member special exhibition policy to moma’s (&pafa’s.) the people who run pma seem to feel that people can appreciate art only in proportion to how much money they have & only rich people can appreciate seeing art a second time. they have made philadelphia a worse place with these elitist policies designed to make philadelphians feel that art is only for wealthy white people.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Gonna have to come up with a BIG exhibition for me to come see it and pay that much.

  4. Samantha Morse says:

    My partner and I have been members for over 10 years. The membership level we subscribed to allowed us to have affordable and enjoyable trips to the Museum with out of town relatives since we got 2 free guest passes with our subscription.
    In addition,it has allowed me to take people who have never been to the Museum, but have lived here all their life, and introduce them to the wonderful civilizing influence of art.

    Sadly, those free passes are not available with our subscription level any more.

    It is obvious that PMA has once again embraced the idea that art is only for the “educated white class”.

  5. stuart roberts says:

    i’d just like to add that a member of moma can bring several (i think up to 5) guests at $5 each (they also just sent me 2 free guest passes.) a member of pma can bring a guest for $20 & that won’t include the special exhibition which would be $25 each plus of course $25 for yourself if you’re wanting to see it a 2nd time. i realize i must be some kind of pervert to want to see art a 2nd time & probably moma shouldn’t be encouraging me. in phila, people are always telling me, if you’ve seen art once, why would you want to see it again ? pma seems to be a strong advocate of this position (at least for those who can’t or won’t pay $25 per look.)

  6. […] of the ‘leaders’ in re$tricting access is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, whose admissions policy is one of the great shames of the entire museum […]

  7. […] example: The Philadelphia Museum of Art announced new, higher admissions charges that further restrict who has the opportunity to see the museum’s collections. The Philly […]

  8. […] can engage its community around an exhibition. (Alas: In a massive unforced error, the PMA then destroyed much of that good will.) [MAN Podcast, image below-left: Strauss, Daddy Tattoo, Philadelphia, […]

  9. […] piece of a museum’s revenue. (For example: Philadelphia is the non-tourist-town high-end at about seven percent. Indy’s number has hovered around five percent for several years.) Many museums have tried to […]

Add a Comment