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Why Free Museums Are Bad for Everyone

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Smithsonian Castle, Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Castle, Washington, D.C. Image via jiawangkun/Shutterstock.com

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art was recently sued by visitors because its advertised admission prices use the word “recommended” in rather fine print, giving the impression there is no getting around the basic non-concession rate of $25. It’s an odd practice, rarely seen elsewhere, of posting a price but not actually making payment required, and so no wonder it causes confusion to those who rarely visit museums. If this is the policy to be followed, surely it’s best to be as transparent as possible to the visitors about their obligations. That said, much of the resulting debate was not about the voluntary nature of the price, but about the amount.

When it comes to museum prices, how high is too high, especially when, as is especially the case outside America, museums receive generous public subsidy? All museums are different of course, in terms of their collections and their patrons, but here are a few things to consider in why it makes sense for museums to continue charging admission.

First, as options go for being able to enjoy the fine arts, museums are not expensive. Compared to what we pay for opera, classical music, or theatre, that we can see the Met’s magnificent collection for just $25, or visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam for just €15 ($20), or the Prado in Madrid for €14 ($18), and spend the entire day there among the greatest treasures of the art, is an astonishing thing. These amounts might seem high compared to museums with free admission, or high relative to what was charged 20 years ago, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that these prices are a relative bargain in the cultural world. And the prices reflect what patrons are willing to pay—a visit to any of these museums shows they are not just for the pleasure of a small elite.

Read more at Quartz

Image via Jiawangkun/Shutterstock.com

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