Sunday, July 30, 2023

The Price of Admission

I am an idealist and believe in helping those who need support in their daily lives, due to no fault of their own. But this is not a Missive about taking care of the poor but rather helping those who love the arts but cannot afford to see them.

I asked Google why art is important and found four billion six hundred and ninety million responses, No, I did not read them all but just a few and I liked the one on top best: “Art is important in our cultural and social lives because it is the medium through which we process our emotions and ideas. It is also an important tool for learning, teaching, and communicating.” We know it has always existed because as soon as fire was discovered there were paintings on the walls of caves and non- utalitran objects created even before that.

My question is why do many museums charge for the privilege of experiencing art first hand.

In order to learn history or art one needs to know what came before. Artists need to be able to view all they can before they can be inspired and make innovative statements. Before Picasso arrived at Cubism, he had studied the paintings of Spanish Old Masters in the Prado. Before the Dutch artist, Piet Mondrian, painted his grids, he had mastered the traditions of Dutch landscape art. Here is an early Mondrian from the Beyeler Foundation and one of his grids.

Art is a vital part of life and the museum is a port of entry. While I have written and others have said that museums are a small corner of the entertainment industry, it is not a momentary diversion or a brief escape like a movie, but a life enhancing experience. Yet, it is less expensive to buy a ticket to a movie than to enter many, if not most, major museums.

The Metropolitan Museum has an annual operating budget of approximately $300 million and an endowment with a current market value of about $4 billion. At their gala this year the museum raised 17.4 million dollars. Yet an individual who wishes to pay a single visit while passing through must pay an entry fee of $25.

What made me think of this is the announcement that the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York is now raising their entry fee from $25 to $30.

According to a listing in Artnews more than 200 art museums in the United States offer free admission, including of course the federally subsidized National Gallery. Even for institutions that do not receive direct government funding, their tax exempt status allows the wealthy to deduct their contributions from their taxes.

Though I believe we all benefit from direct exposure to works of art, those who most need to go to art museums are the artists, art students and art educators. From the news we know that the college degree is a way to get in the door but you only learn your trade on the job. Degree or no degree the artist learns from how others have worked through the ages. To avoid the adage that there is nothing new under the sun, show me what came before. Let the artist learn from past examples the visions, techniques, and tricks of the trade to adopt, adapt or reject.

Granted New York city is one of the most expensive parts of the country but in relative terms museum fees can be a barrier to entry. An article by Colleen Dilenschneider, chief market engagement officer for IMPACTS, which claims to be “ a global leader in predictive market intelligence” compares the average annual household income of individuals who went to the Zoo, Aquarium, Science Museum, History Museum and Art Museum. You might be surprised, or not, that those with the highest income, between $71-72,000, went to the art museum.

While all statistics can be interpreted differently, could it have something to do with the cost of entry? According to income categories I could find on line, the earnings of few professional artists reach that category.

Maybe the museums should look at whether their sources of funding other than an entrance charge could cover their operating costs. Surely access should not be restricted to those who can afford to enter their “hallowed halls”.

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