I was a bit distracted this morning when I heard CBC radio news report that McGuinty had made some big announcement at the ROM yesterday. And hearing the words “free access” “Tuesday” and “million dollars” sift through my other tasks at the time, I must say I felt some margin of hope rise up in my museum-cynical soul: Could it be that a free evening at the ROM was actually being reinstituted? That perhaps the museum had woken up to the fact that since much of the collection it manages belongs to the public, the public has a right to see it for free?
Sadly, a little bit of poking ’round the interweb quickly grounded that wild flight of fancy: it turns out that the new Tuesday-access plan only offers free entry to “full-time students attending a post-secondary institution in Canada.”
Those of you working to pay off your student loans? Or maybe not financially well off enough to afford to go to university in the first place? Well, you’ll still have to fork over the usual $20 on Tuesdays. Oh, and on Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Saturday and most of Wednesdays and Fridays too. If you can plan your week around getting a look at the stuff your own taxes pay for, you might want to save up for $10 Friday evenings or try the one hour of completely gratis access on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 5:30.
OK, so there is more a little more on the table than that. Under the ridiculously named “ROM CAN” funding ($1.3 mil in total) the United Way and the Institute for Canadian Citizenship will distribute 1,200 free passes to their user groups each month.
While I think the United Way and so many other hardworking Toronto organizations rock, this still in no way addresses the bulk of the ROM’s mandate, which is to provide equitable access to all Ontarians to their own heritage.
First, there’s the numbers game: according to socialplanningtoronto.org, in 2001 there were 1,611,505 people living in poverty in Ontario, 771,535 of them in the GTA. So even if all these people are registered with partner orgs (with no double dipping!) it will take 1,343 months, or 111 years, for these people to have had a chance to see the dinosaurs up close. By which time, many will have met the same fate as the dinosaurs.
Second, all this “access outsourcing” the ROM is doing is a bit worrisome. It started with the Museum Arts Pass Program, launched in June of last year, which is essentially administrated by the Toronto Public Library. Now, they’ve passed some more access responsibilities along to the United Way and the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. Essentially it’s the arts-and-culture version of Mike Harris’s social services downloading of the 1990s.
I may seem all full of snark, but I think I come by it honestly. I really did have a little, glowing hope earlier today that the ROM was going to turn around and do something really good, take some of the millions of dollars they’ve received of late and do the right thing. Not just a little teeny tiny bit of the right thing, not just bringing in the caterers and the politicians and the press and telling everybody that “hey, look, we’re doing the right thing” but you know, actually doing it.
There are so many other very reasonable access options the ROM has effectively decided against: Free access to the permanent collection. Free access for a day or an evening. Keeping all admission fees at $10 or under. Having concession fees for the underemployed. Admission by donation. The list goes on. Almost every museum in Canada has some combination of these strategies–and has to, in order to keep their funding and their reputation.
By throwing more money at the ROM without keeping them to a truly equitable public mandate, McGuinty is basically encouraging bad behavior in their museum management. Maybe he can abide by that. But I certainly can’t.