CultureGrrl Casts Doubts on DMA’s New Free Admission Policy

by Bill Davenport December 4, 2012

In a post yesterday in CultureGrrl, blogger Lee Rosenbaum nitpicks the new free-admission policy at the Dallas Museum of Art. In support of her fears that dropping admission charges will be financially unsustainable, she cavils that DMA director Maxwell Anderson’s claim that museums in general derive 4% of their operating income from admission charges is incorrect- the true figure as she calculates it is closer to 5.5%!

Anderson defends the policy on philosophical grounds, saying, “The financials are obviously of key interest to us, but the transition was philosophically driven, with an understanding that there are risks involved, and that our generous supporters will back this new program up if the first-year forecasts fall short.”

Rosenbaum favors the Met’s “voluntary” admission fee approach, which she says accounts for 15% of the Met’s operating budget, and which has landed them in a lawsuit from disgruntled patrons who claim the museum purposely disguised the voluntary nature of the admission fee for years.

But  Rosembaum doesn’t understand parking. How many visitors pay to park at the MET? How many visitors pay to park at the DMA? Last summer, a sharp rise in parking fees at the Getty in Los Angeles revealed that the “free” museum’s parking operation took in $6.4 million. A “free” DMA will still cost every carload of visitors $10. Populist Anderson may have taken a play from professional sports, which has known for years that the money isn’t made selling the cheap seats, but in parking, catering and skyboxes.


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Rainey Knudson December 4, 2012 - 13:20

I think the real story is not the free admission but the DMA’s new membership model, which as far as I can tell is a sophisticated data mining operation disguised as a loyalty reward program, all in the name of delivering museum visitors a customized experience. Which as a business strategy isn’t anything unusual (retailers and consumer electronics being obvious examples), but for the museum world is radically ingenious.

Janet Tyson December 6, 2012 - 17:22

Detroit Institute of Arts recently initiated free admission. But that was in response to the three counties, comprising 80-percent of its audience, voting to tax themselves to support the museum’s operating budget.


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