This is a bit older, but it still discusses the question in a variety of interesting lights: The Cultural Calculation: Museum Fees.
On the one hand: museums need any source of revenue they can get, and shouldn’t be selling themselves short. They are great enough that people should be willing to pay for the quality product they receive.
On the other hand: museums are a cultural resource, and any museum that relies on admissions to support any significant portion of its budget is not in a very good financial position for the longterm. Expecting families to shell out as much as $100 to visit your museum for a few hours is not exactly growing your audience and working with your community.
Speaking purely for myself, I tend to lean toward free admission. I know that I couldn’t afford to go to nearly as many museums as I do without my reciprocal admission benefits. I also think that pricing out families in the middle-income range and catering only to those who can spend significant amounts of money on a cultural visit is not the way to build audience. (Yes, families can purchase memberships to visit one museum multiple times, but we want them to be visiting multiple museums and broadening their exposure, right?)
I suspect few museums are willing to share the nitty-gritty details of their funding, but how much are museums really taking in from their admissions fees – 5%? 10%? Anything more and I’d really start to worry about so much of the budget depending on such a highly unpredictable and varying revenue stream.
What do you think, Tufts community? Yea or nay to museum admission fees?