Two different online posts/queries came across my inbox today which made me think about where museums might be headed. The American Association of Museums posted a Facebook link to a newspaper story about two museums in Fort Worth, the Kimball and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. At the very end of the article, the author shared a tip: how to sneak into the latter museum and avoid the $10 fee. Responses to the article, in general, were about the moral and ethical implications--legitimate concerns, but perhaps masking the real issues. On Museum-L, a query about allowing photography in museums drew numerous responses--most of them in favor of restricting all photographic access.
I'm certainly not condoning sneaking into anywhere, but I think we need to think about why this is. Like many of my museum colleagues, I've worked at the front desk, and have, on occasion, answered the would-be visitor's question, "Is it worth it?" And yes, as a visitor I have stood in front of a museum, wondering if the admission was worth it (but no, I've never asked a front desk person that). Elaine Heumann Gurian has written eloquently about her belief that museums should be free--and that our admission costs are the single biggest barrier to connecting to our communities. In Great Britain, where museums are supported to a much larger degree by public funding, free admission has resulted in millions more museum visitors.
So perhaps we shouldn't be angry at the author of the article, but continue to think more deeply about how we can encourage all of our communities to either support museums the way they do libraries--free to all--or to ensure that the experiences we offer are valued by those who pay for them.
That photography post? I like to take pictures in museums--I appreciate my colleagues' work and often want to share it with others as inspiration. I like to see how visitors interact, how beautiful spaces can be, and more. Perhaps two years ago, I heard a great session at AAM with a speaker from the Japanese American National Museum. An anime exhibit, designed to attract younger audiences, was curated by an outside curator who insisted that visitors be allowed to take photographs in the exhibition. The staff was initially a bit dubious, but relented. Why did he insist? Because then visitors would blog about it, post their pictures on Facebook, and put cellphone videos on Youtube--and then more people would visit. The result was just as he predicted. More visitors--and more visitors going through the entire museum. And, if you think visitors are obeying that dictate--just do a quick search of "sneak museum photo" on Flickr.
I've been reading several articles about a new book, Free, by Chris Anderson. It's about the online marketplace and the paradox of making money from free things. (and a caveat--I just found an article that shows that some of Anderson's passages are lifted directly from Wikipedia without attribution and Anderson has admitted the mistake) I've not read the book yet, but a brief article in this week's Newsweek provides a summary which makes me want to learn more--and perhaps provides a way for museums to think about their place in the market:
- Win-win freeconomics. Monty Python gave away some free clips on Youtube. The result: their Amazon sales up 23,000 percent.
- The cost of online infotainment is distributed so that it's hidden or so distributed that it's imperceptible.
- Companies trafficking in ideas (that's us, right?) drop prices as the execution of said ideas gets more efficient.
- And perhaps most importantly, says Anderson, "there's no going back." A new generation assumes free access as a given.
And by the way, Free can be downloaded for free here.
Top to bottom:
London museum, by Kaustav Bhattacharya on Flickr
Tokyo museum ticket, by kimnchris on Flickr
On exhibition at The Hyde Collection