When you go to a museum are you happy to pay for the entrance or do you think it should be free?
Two years ago I was finally able to go to London, one of those cities I had been longing to visit all my life. However, being a student with such a low budget, I had to really plan ahead everything so I wouldn't spend that much and be able to see as much as I could. I don’t have to tell you, but I barely got to see stuff, since they charged quite a lot on basically every museum entrance, even when I had my UK student card. Obviously, I felt so angry because I had to decide to either pay for the tickets or for food (I can’t stress how limited by budget was). I had visited Paris, a quite expensive city as well, and the only place I paid to enter was the Louvre Museum, so I thought it would be basically the same thing. I ranted for weeks about how they expect people to get in touch with culture when it isn’t accessible for everyone. You’re probably thinking I’m right about this, but when I came back to my country, I was talking to a tourist guide in a museum and started talking about this experience. His response left me thinking. Yes, it’s great to have free access to culture, and that’s the ideal dream, but someone has to pay to have these museums up and running. Smaller ones, like where he works, don't pay their employees enough because of these free access policies. So, should or should we not pay to have access to this?
Museé du Louvre
In the same nature of the discussion, I came across an article in Hyperallergic, where the president and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Daniel H. Weiss, talks about the new access policies that are going to be applied starting in March and about the huge controversy this has generated. As of now, the museum has a give-what-you-wish policy that allows people to give what they see fit or what they think is reasonable to pay to visit the museum. The idea now is that only people from the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) can continue visiting the museum under that policy. The rest of the people will be charged $25 USD. Naturally, this caused a huge uproar in the public, who not only think that the price is excessive but that, being one of the most important museums in the world, the access should be free.
As I said before, that would be ideal. I strongly believe that culture and education are the only way for a society to change and evolve. I also agree with many who claim that the exhibitions are part of our global heritage, so we shouldn’t pay to admire them. Now, this is quite a complicated matter, since I also agree that there must be funds to actually preserve this heritage and have the museum in the best conditions to keep it open to the public. So, then again, who should pay for all of this if the public were to have free access? As Weiss explains, some of the money they get comes from the government, but this is only the 9%, which doesn’t really cover what the museum needs to keep its doors open. With the pay-what-you-wish policy that was implemented during the seventies, the percentage of funding getting from the Federal Government raised up to 25%, and at the same time, people used to give as much as they could to keep the museum running. Nowadays, as Weiss states, the price people are willing to pay has lowered, and the numbers have decreased a 71% of what they used to get, even when visits have increased exponentially in the past decade.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Most museums work basically under the same structures as the Met, even when they don’t have this policy. Some percentage of the funds come from their respective governments, the rest from fundraisers and admission fees. However, it’s true that there are also a lot of things we don’t really see regarding the money exchange behind each museum’s functioning, and I wouldn’t doubt there’s a lot of corruption as well. I’m pretty sure, and I could even bet on it, that even when the Met has shown a lot of economic deficit, Mr. Weiss still gets paid his full salary, just as the other directives. So, if you ask me, the question here, more than if museum access should be free for everybody, or even who gets to pay, is how the money is been used. Weiss does claim that, in an ideal scenario, those who get a direct benefit from the museum should be the ones to pay the most. But is this really being applied?
Why do people who can only visit the museum during a lifetime have to pay 25 dollars, while those who live there can pay as little as a penny? Yes, as a foreigner I would be paying for the benefit of looking and admiring all the great works in there, but that’s pretty much it. The money the museum leaves to the city has greater benefits for those who actually live there, the owners of businesses near it, and so on, so why aren’t they paying more than the rest? This should also refer to those who actually get money from institutions like the Met. Are they paying the right percentage compared to what they receive? Yes, many donate thousands, even millions, but this is information we don’t really get to see to determine whether this model is actually helping the preservation of museums all over the world.
In my opinion, and to close the conversation for now (although I think it’s vital for the discussion to remain open), the reality is that free access to culture isn’t happening anytime soon, and we have to be realistic. I think we should actually pay for access to museums to keep them running. Meanwhile, there are many museums in the world that have student discounts and other offers like that. In Mexico, for instance, some museums have days during the week where there is free access, so people who can’t afford to pay for a ticket can actually see the different exhibits. I think these policies should apply to all museums in the world, so that we can have more balanced and fair opportunities to enjoy culture. Going back to my rant, this should also be applied in museums of highly expensive cities, so that people don’t have to choose other stuff rather than culture. This is what makes people believe that culture is a high brow entertainment instead of something we all can have access to.
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Cover photo: British Museum