Following plenty of blog chatter last week around the demise of â€œFive Dollar Fridaysâ€ at the ROM (and accompanied by traumatic flashbacks about the demise of â€œFree Fridaysâ€ in the months prior) the Toronto Public Library is gearing up to announce a new-to-Toronto museum pass program this Wednesday. Though full details aren’t yet available, it appears the program will function by allowing a small number of free museum passes (think less than 200 total) for weekly first-come, first-served pickup at â€œhigh-needs areaâ€ library branches. Similar programs also operate in Ottawa and Boston.
Also, to keep free hours per week roughly the same as in the past, the ROM has changed its â€œ60 minutes prior to close is freeâ€ to â€œ90 minutes prior to close is free.â€
While the library pass program is definitely a great idea, I harbour some fear that it will be used as a rationale by new, â€œhouse-poorâ€ museums to further curtail in-house public access programs. The Canadian Museum of Civilization participates in a library access program and has free Tuesday nights and has a graduated admission scheme the rest of the time so that adult visitors can pay just $10 — a bargain compared to the ROM’s $20 — to get through the door.
In yesterday’s Sunday Star, I argued that museums democratizing access worldwide use a combination of public access techniques, not just a few. Because space there was limited, I thought I’d list a few more details and points to ponder here:
*ROM public access policies promise in writing to reduce economic barriers to admission to the â€œgreatest extent possible.â€
*Free admission to the Baltimore Museum of Art and Walters Art Museum (also in Baltimore) was initiated in October 2006 through Free Fall Baltimore, an innovative citywide program designed to make the arts available to everyone. Could we ever establish one here?
* The federal policy of free admission has been one of the British government’s most popular measures. It has generated an additional 29 million visitors for the 14 institutions which previously charged. On average, visits are up 75%. The biggest winners have been the Victoria and Albert Museum, where attendance is up 138%, and National Museums Liverpool, which has seen a rise of 118%. (Thanks to Michelle Kasprzak for the link.)
* “I view an accessible museum admission cost as part of society’s responsibility to itself and thus think $20 at the door is expensive. We should be supporting our institutions from public funds sufficient to allow reasonable entry prices. Or that our institutions should set its budgeting priorities to allow for reasonable access.” —Lynne Teather, professor of Museum Studies, University of Toronto, and author of The Royal Ontario Museum: A Prehistory, 1830-1914
* “Museum admission fees are clearly most hurtful to those least able to afford them. Think of how the public and the politicians would explode if just the downtown public library were to establish an admission fee. It is about time we made visiting an art museum as easy as visiting a library.” —Charles M. Weisenberg, former public relations director of the Los Angeles Public Library
* “The high entrance fees imposed by some New York City art museums will not only deprive museums of future patrons, but will also deprive all of us of future artists, since children who might become great artists need to spend a great deal of time studying art in museums. Unless we permit free entrance, especially on weekends, we are diminishing the very talents that museums will need for their survival.” —Letters Section, New York Times, April 18, 1999
Photos from Free Fall Baltimore