Thursday, July 28th, 2011

The MoMA Admission Increase is Horrible

At MoMA, the amount of revenue from admissions (almost $25 million a year, and these are all 2010 fiscal year numbers) is quite nearly equal to the amount approved by the board for yearly spending from their investments. (The museum overall has investments valued at $642 million. You know: 2/3rds of a billion dollars.)

As well, that number is also almost exactly equal to the amount of money the museum spends on curatorial services alone—not even including exhibition costs.

Museums in this way are like newspapers (and maybe colleges as well): the subscribers to a newspaper pay for some of what they "see"—the words and pictures—but don't even begin to cover the cost of actually publishing a newspaper. Those customers just can't be, in most cases, where the money comes from.

Annnd that's (sort of!) why newspapers have advertising. (They also have advertising because "they can.") In these models, there's only so much you can squeeze out of the customer base. The museum is now overstepping its bounds in its relationship with its visitors, as it raises the admission price from $20 to $25. (It should be noted too that the price went to $20 just back in 2004.)

But someone went and did the math about raising admission and membership prices, and calculated that, despite surely losing some members, the projected income still goes up a bit. And then the administrators get to say they're doing their job to protect the museum's future with that little uptick out of visitor's pockets—while the rest of us only visit the museum on the Target-sponsored free admission Friday evenings.

It's interesting too that in 2010 the museum made almost as much money getting rid of art ($11 million—about half the annual income from admissions!) as they did buying art (almost $16 million).

49 Comments / Post A Comment

Matt (#26)

Going to museums alone to Pony.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

A) The majority of the visitors enjoy a lovely exchange rate; B) the analogy with colleges is interesting but not entirely on point? as in addition to educating future leaders colleges also produce research, which it has never before fallen to tuition to fund.

Future leaders. Scary, right?

Rosebud (#4,107)

@dntsqzthchrmn This is so true. The majority of visitors are tourists. If you're a local, buy a membership, but do it soon since membership rates go up in November (I may have some inside information).

Matt (#26)

Hey, just speaking from my experience in DC, a swamp, I like it when Corcoran has some free days because then I go on the non-free days and it's a lot less full of shitty tourists because it's not free. Something, something sending your laundry out.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

Alright, can of worms/Pandora's Box, etc, but here goes:
New Yorkers, which is your best museum?

Hammer (#13,641)

@IBentMyWookie the moma, obviously

HereKitty (#2,713)

@IBentMyWookie The Museum of the City of New York.

jfruh (#713)

@IBentMyWookie This non-NYer but frequent visitor sez THE MET 4 LIFE

@IBentMyWookie Museum of Sex. Duh!

@IBentMyWookie : Here is a fun parlor game: rank museums based on the number of pieces of art you would steal from each.

By this rubric, the Met wins handily, though it may be handicapped by the fact that stealing massive marble statues is probably quite tricky. (d'Epinay's "Sappho," I have my eye on you)

Matt (#26)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose That's just a Listicle Without Commentary.

Astigmatism (#1,950)

@IBentMyWookie Ack. If I were limited to one for the rest of my life, the Met. My single favorite: the Met, Moma and Whitney. How exactly am I supposed to choose?

IBentMyWookie (#133)

@Clarence Rosario That's what we call your mom.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

@Astigmatism Explain best elements, strengths of each. And that goes for all of you! (Please?)

migraineheadache (#1,866)

@IBentMyWookie The Met, because of the Visual Storage Room, the Stills, and the 19th century scratchitti.

City_Dater (#2,500)


The Frick. Small and intimate and hardly ever so packed with assholes that it's impossible to actually look at the art (which always happens to me at the Met and MoMA unless I take a vacation day just to museum cruise).

ejcsanfran (#489)

@migraineheadache: And let's not forget – The Met's admission price remains "suggested"!

max bread (#5,970)

@IBentMyWookie The Met because of the ARMS AND ARMOR section, duh.

Mr. B (#10,093)

I always kind of suspected nobody really loves the Guggenheim.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@City_Dater: Seconding the Frick. The Cloisters a close second.

Astigmatism (#1,950)

@IBentMyWookie The Met, because (a) if you stay away from the touristy areas (impressionism, Temple of Dendar, a few exhibitions) it's actually not that crowded, (b) it almost literally has something for everyone, (c) the visual storage room, and (d) you can randomly stumble on things like the Japanese garden, the Versailles panorama, or other hidden places that are completely deserted and awesome.

MoMA, because their modern collection is pretty much unsurpassed, their exhibitions are very well curated, and their cafeteria is the best, hands-down (though the entire museum is perpetually overrun).

The Whitney because post-war and ab-ex are my jam, they're willing to experiment with one-room exhibitions and newer artists you'd otherwise have to go to some horrible gallery to see, and because nobody else in the US has anything like the Bicentennial.

That said, I just realized I'm leaving out the Morgan. I need to stop.

HiredGoons (#603)

@Mr. B: The Guggenheim has too much Kandinsky.

Rosebud (#4,107)

@IBentMyWookie The Morgan Museum and Library!!!!!!

C_Webb (#855)

@IBentMyWookie I'm not crazy about the Guggenheim's holdings either, but they do an AMAZING outreach program with NYC public elementary schools that have lost funding for art classes. My 9 year old got to work with an artist once a week all school year, make great stuff, and then attend an "opening" for an exhibit of all the work, complete with kid docents. It was pretty freaking cool.

@IBentMyWookie Museum of Sex. Because it's about fucking.

No love for the Natural History Museum, anyone? I know they made a shitty movie about it, but they have dinosaurs! And a big ass whale! And diamonds! And the PLANETARIUM!

hman (#53)

@DorothyMantooth Hah – Didn't you have a crush on Neil DeGrasse Tyson or something?

@hman Awwwww, YES!! I'd call you a stalker, but I love that someone ever paid any attention at all to anything I've said and also I LOVE YOU!

Hammer (#13,641)

Does that mean tickets to movie screenings will cost $25 now?

Rosebud (#4,107)

@Hammer No, they will be $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens 65 and older, and $8 for students. Film admission for children 16 and under will remain free.

ejcsanfran (#489)

C'mon – doesn't everyone know someone who works at MoMA and can put them on the comp list?

HiredGoons (#603)

@ejcsanfran: *call me

HiredGoons (#603)

@ejcsanfran: Also you can go when its closed!

tiny dancer (#1,774)

Perhaps the one(?) perk to being a grad student in this city. Thousands of dollars in debt, but free admission to MoMA.

checkonetwo (#3,234)

@tiny dancer Does that also apply to law students? Or do we just assume they need no culture (lest they discover Shakespeare wants to kill them all)?

tiny dancer (#1,774)

@checkonetwo I think it depends on your school. MoMA states that their student admission is $12 (with ID!), so that's a worst case scenario for you. My school has a deal with MoMA that gets us in free. Maybe yours does too, I'd check with your school. If you happen to be at CU, I believe it applies to the whole university, and not just random programs/schools within.

Chairman Meow (#820)

$25 is 3.4 hours of minimum-wage work. The poor don't need to look at art, I guess.

@Chairman Meow : And so, extra kudos to the Met for retaining their "suggested but not required" admission policy.

HiredGoons (#603)

They have this thing, called a membership – you also get to go to parties, see stuff before everyone else, and movie premieres; the annual cost is basically one month of premium cable (or, now, 4 visits).

Have an hour to kill in midtown? Go pop in and see some of the greatest works of art on Earth without the pressure of seeing everything because you just shelled out $25 bucks and only have 4 or 5 hours.

Highly suggested.

esquared (#888)

i hope they'd still continue the friday night free admission.

with these prices rising, soon, only the riches will be able to afford cultural stuff in nyc.

HiredGoons (#603)

@esquared: this is why I'm a Monarchist.

antagoniste (#19,776)

Yes, but do you really pay full price? If you're a local, you probably go on Friday nights, or you visit with a friend who's a member. MoMA is really just hiking rates on tourists who don't know better, and they've all got Euros, so they're fine. Economists call it price discrimination.

Pop Socket (#187)

In their defense, this is what the market will bear. Have you ever not seen a line? And since it's a lot smaller than the Met, the crowds get overwhelming real easy.

C_Webb (#855)

I also wonder if another analogy of museums/colleges is the number of filthy rich donors who give money ONLY for exhibits/building/wings that will bear their name. At two schools I've been to, semi-unecessary buildings were designed and built with money that could have, like, eliminated tuition for ten years, but god forbid there not be an actual tangible constantly-viewable THING in their honor.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@C_Webb: This post brought to you by the C_Webb Charitable Trust and The Awl Foundation.

I never really liked art that much anyway.

alorsenfants (#139)

Lesser reason I posted was to say: Heck who cares! I get to the city once a year nowadays, and if five bucks more means I will have fewer clueless people in the room when I get to see Rothko or Klee — fine by me. Do they get the stuff anyway? (I know, I know… do I?)

Bigger reason, off topic I guess: Shout out to Choire for the M. Wells vs. Fatty Cue call? Haven't been to either, think I wouldn't get to L.I.C. when I'm in New York 2 weeks from now… but always watch, and loved the appraisal!

So, as a former museum development officer, it seems to me that MoMA is basically doing everything "by the book" of best practices. Admissions and membership should pay for general operating expenses. Exhibitions should be funded by grants and sponsorships, because the funds need to be secured well in advance in order to make an exhibition schedule. Major gifts and planned gifts are great for capital expansion and improvements because they can be used to leverage financing. And deaccessioning may be used – indeed should only be used per AAM ethics guidelines – for new acquisitions.

All of these "best" practices can be done in the worst possible way, and I'm not sure the $25 ticket price is prudent, though MoMA also has staffed and funded audience development, education and outreach programs, so they are going to try to fulfill their social mission using donated (rather than earned) revenue. That's probably a good thing, even if it's less financially efficient.

Exhibition sponsorships are also a thorny area, because when marketing exceeds content what you're left with is mere entertainment, and that erodes the museum's value.

Spencer Lund (#2,331)

At the Met the "suggested" donations aren't really suggestions. I've been in the Met and been turned away from certain areas when I failed to pay their "suggested" donation. I asked them if the Met was still free, and they said "yes," but I still wasn't allowed into that area (can't remember which one). I know you only need to donate $1 or anything, but I was flat broke at the time.

The "suggested" donations are false. You need to pay, or some things are not viewable, the entire staff gives you the evil eye, and the haughty, UES residents glower at you and think things like "There is no way that broke white guy could possibly appreciate the Richard Serra exhibit without at least some cash on his person."

Now I just go to Morgantown and pick up sheet metal that's unguarded to throw into a pile on the street. Then, I can take an photo of it and post it on a blog with a caption complaining about the Met's nefarious suggested donation scam.

Culture is hard.

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