Thursday, July 3, 2008
Does Free Admission Work?
Fascinating article and accompanying slide show by Holland Cotter for the New York Times about Chinese museums. I'm intrigued by the fact that the Chinese government made all museums free, and now they have to limit the number of visitors because so many people want to come. When I looked a little further, I found an article and the above picture. It's visitors coming in to the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution where it noted that the museum had 12,000 visitors on the first free day--ten times the normal attendance. I hear the same debate in this country and in Britain they have also made many museums free. I poked around a bit and found some additional information. For the last six years, 17 large museums in Britain have been free (the permanent collections, at least) and attendance has increased more than 60 percent. In France, a new initiative testing free admission for national museums for six months ended June 30; I couldn't find any statistics.
The difference of course, is that in both those countries, governments provide major support for the institutions. When I lived in Washington. one of the very nicest things was free admission to all those Smithsonian museums. I'm curious to learn more about other museums that have gone to free admission. Has it increased attendance everywhere? Does it attract non-musuem goers, or does it just make it easier for dedicated goers to return weekly? Is it sustainable?
It's also apparent that Cotter is very much a traditionalist and describes US art museums as not particularly using media, interpretive text or other methods. Maybe so for some, but at others, say the Brooklyn Museum, a very different type of installation. What he's impressed by though, saying that Chinese museums have alot to teach us, are the many ways in which Chinese museums engage their audiences. It made me want to visit China!