Archive for December, 2009

Ticket price as a barrier to museum access, Part 1: Art museums

December 28, 2009

How can museums, zoos, and other cultural institutions stay in business while serving visitors whose finances are limited? When does the price of admission become a barrier to access?

Anyone who’s worked in and around museums can tell you that free days generally bring in not only a larger crowd, but people who seem to have less disposable income than the usual run of visitors.

When I worked at the Exploratorium in the early 2000’s, the contrast between free first Wednesdays and the rest of the month was striking. It was the busiest day of the month, hands down; the crowd was much more racially mixed and on the whole looked much less affluent. There were more couples who looked to be in their teens and early twenties, as opposed to the usual parent/guardian types with children. There were also busloads of kids and their chaperones from schools and day camps all over northern California that likely couldn’t pay the museum’s group rates.

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and get involved with the exhibits as much as any other set of visitors, though. To my eye — and I must emphasize that I have no research to back this up — this was a crowd that stayed away from the Exploratorium on every other day of the month not out of lack of interest, but because they couldn’t afford it.

I suspect that this is true for museums, zoos, and aquariums across the United States. To get a sense of whether this might be the case, I did a quick survey of admission prices at a small sample of leading art and science museums across the country.

Some provisos: I did not include pay-what-you-will museums (the Met in New York, although you wouldn’t know it from their signage or website), or free ones (the Smithsonians in Washington, the Gettys in LA, which do charge for parking but even then are a bargain). I did not take into account free/reduced admission times, package deals, or membership deals and prices. These are just basic, walk-up retail prices.

Based on the general admission price for adults, seniors, and students, I calculated the cost of admission for a family of four,: two adults, one senior, one youth/student. Here are the results for my sample art museums:

MoMA, New York: $68

Guggenheim, New York: $51

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: $65.50

Art Institute of Chicago: $48

Philadelphia Museum of Art: $58

Denver Art Museum: $31 (Colorado residents), $41 (non-residents)

LACMA, Los Angeles: $32

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: $39

Average cost of admission, family of four: $50. Not including parking/transit, food, special exhibits, museum store, etc. 

We’ll look at science museums in Part 2.


New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York: Wait for the elevator

December 16, 2009

I’ve mentioned the New Museum of Contemporary Art before, in the Disabling Museum posts from several months ago. On a recent visit to New York City, we found that the lobby has the same awkward features. In order to access the exhibition galleries, which are all on higher floors, you pretty much have to line up and wait for an elevator.

A big, slow elevator. 

The other choice is a small, slow elevator.

The stairs are an afterthought.

The result: big, awkward crowds gather in the lobby at regular intervals, shuffle into the elevators, and begin to gather again. A few brave souls head up the stairs, but most people don’t want to make the four to five story climb.

Visitor comfort in San Diego: Video Part 2

December 9, 2009

Video documentation continues of our visitor comfort workshop in October at the Western Museums Association. In this chapter, workshop participants recount their first visits to the Museum of Photographic Arts in their roles as people with either learning differences or physical disabilities. Participants were given brief profile cards on the morning of the workshop. They had not seen their profiles before and had about 20 minutes to familiarize themselves with the important characteristics of the roles they would be playing. 

The dedication and consistency with which they inhabit their characters and interact with the museum in those roles, is striking. I think this demonstrates the viability of role-playing as a method for testing visitor comfort and accessibility among staff and consultants. It also demonstrates Paul Gabriel’s point that people with learning differences and disabilities do not have “different” comfort and accessibility needs; they are simply more sensitive to those needs than some other visitors and thus can help to identify problem areas quickly and efficiently.

MOMA New York: Lobby follies

December 1, 2009

One of the more annoying aspects of a visit to the old, pre-renovation Museum of Modern Art in New York was the coat check: a narrow, dim, corridor that could only hold a few people at a time. On a cold, rainy day, with most visitors checking something, it was crowded, confused, and chaotic.

Comes the much-heralded renovation, and voila: the old coat check experience has not only been replicated, but made even more unpleasant.

This was what it looked like on a mild mid-autumn day. Crowded? Yes. Dim? Check. Confusing? You bet. Hmm –what’s missing? I know: narrow! 

It’s not even clear how you’re supposed to get there from the lobby proper.

A popsicle stand at the coat check exit directing visitors to the entrance: a sure sign of intrinsically confusing design. Many visitors ignore this sign and enter here anyway, inadvertently jumping the line.

Meanwhile, out in the lobby, an example of dichotomous, able-bodied vs. handicapped thinking: a separate “handicapped” ramp.

Perhaps this is a naive question, but if a ramp and handrail arrangement works for so-called handicapped visitors, why would it not work for all visitors? Or if a large proportion prefer stairs, why not split it fifty-fifty? Why create a narrow cattle chute for the people with the wheelchairs and walkers? And strollers? And rolling luggage? Or who feel unsteady on stairs? Etcetera. This is really backwards thinking for the mid-oughts.