This Sunday marks the last day for Torontonians to preview empty galleries at the ROM Crystal. And today (Friday) is the only day of the preview (which started Monday) that it won’t cost you $20 to get in the door — admission drops to $5 for adults after 4:30pm.
To my mind, the crystal is a building worth seeing and experiencing from the inside as well as out. As a result, I’m concerned about whether this building — which belongs to a public institution and holds its collection in the public trust — will be financially accessible to most members of the public. These concerns were detailed in part in a NOW op-ed published yesterday. I wanted to elaborate on them more fully here.
In doing a little research (I’m no born museum buff, unfortunately) through the Canadian Museums Association, I found that most museums, the ROM included, work on the principle that their collection belongs to the public. Museums are exempt from taxes and receive funding from the government (and are created through acts of government) because they agree to both preserve and provide public access to those collections which represent our collective memory.
Museums worldwide deal with tension between the goals of preservation and access (not to mention competing concerns of inconsistent government funding) in different ways.
Some, like the London UK’s Natural History Museum, National Gallery and the Tate museums, charge no admission fee for their permanent collections, but do charge fees for admission to special and touring exhibitions. They also have concession pricing for the unwaged.
Others, like the Prado in Madrid, offer one free day a week (in their case, Sundays), as well as free admission every day to those under the age of 18, those over 65, the unemployed, and EU students.
Looking at this array of public access options versus the ROM’s current policy of $20 per adult, $17 per student or senior, and $14 per child over the age of 5 during 93% of operating hours, I can only feel chagrin. The ROM’s new crystal purports to house an Institute for Contemporary Culture, yet it seems determined to shut actual contemporary culture making less than of $60,000 a year out.
If prestige and tourist numbers are Thorsell et al.’s rationale behind this high-end pricing scheme, they would do well to note that the sexily renovated Tate Modern (including its kinder admission policies) remains a huge tourist draw for visitors of all income levels.
What’s more, places like the Tate actually have a public life. I love going to a museum like that and seeing kids running around, seeing people unwrap their homemade sandwiches, knowing that people really feel the museum — and, by extension, â€œhigh cultureâ€ — belongs to them. So not only is it just, but actually wonderful and pleasant when people use (and, as precursor, are able to use) their museums as extensions of public space.
When will we be able to feel this way about Toronto-area “public” museums?
Image from Live With Culture.