It’s a common refrain that museums hold art in the public trust. Underlying that idea is fact that most art museums cannot afford to offer free admission. Where they’ve been mandated to go free, local governments have not stepped in with enough support. In the US, the Federal government has a grant program to allow museums to explore the effects of free admission.
Fortune magazine reports on what some of the institutions taking advantage of these grants have experienced:
With the help of its own multi-year grant, the Dallas Museum of Art eliminated its $10 general admission — while still charging for special exhibitions — and saw annual attendance jump to 668,000 from 498,000. It also offered free memberships, now up to 100,000, and emphasizes audience engagement. “Now we know who they are. That data is worth a lot more,” Maxwell Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art, told Fortune.
The museum has seen a 29% increase in minorities visitors. Latinos alone now account for 26% of the museum’s audience. The new members’ favorite work of art is John Hernandez’s 1992 “HI-C Avenger” and the most popular badge is “ringleader,” awarded when a DMA Friend brings three people to the museum.