Museum Admission Fees

Over the summer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art raised its suggested admission donation to $25. The Museum of Modern Art and our own Boston Museum of Fine Arts have followed suit.

The moves have sparked a number of articles both for and against, and this one from the Art Newspaper website is by far the best, offering a good overview of the questions and challenges that surround the question of what a museum should charge for admission.

What do you think? Do some museums charge too much? Should all museums charge more? Should they all be free?

Museums: Educators or Collectors?

I recently finished reading Thomas Hoving’s memoir, Making the Mummies Dance. Hoving was director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1967 to 1977. He was a fascinating, polarizing figure, and passed away in 2009; his obituary in the New York Times is a thoughtful summation of his life and work.

Hoving had clear, definite opinions about nearly everything. I would highly recommend reading this book; it’s by turns fascinating, horrifying, hilarious, and charming. There’s something in there for everyone to like, and for everyone to hate.

One passage in particular really jumped out at me. Hoving had just finalized the purchase of a seminal work by Velazquez, Juan de Pareja, for the record price of just over $5.5 million, and his director of education, Harry Parker, was not pleased.

I told [chairman of the board of trustees, Douglas] Dillon that Harry Parker and his group would want to be reassured that the priorities of the museum were not changing with such an expenditure.

“One would think that the acquisition of such a world masterpiece is in itself the nucleus of the educational process,” Dillon observed.

But when I told Harry Parker, he flew into a rage. “I cannot believe this!” he cried. You have in one stupid stroke lost millions for this institution! I find this purchase inexplicable and outrageous and indelibly damaging to the museum.”

I chewed him out. “People don’t give a damn what the Rembrandt cost,” I said, “or what the Canova cost, what the Raphael cost, what the Unicorn Tapestries cost – all they care about is that these beautiful, powerful things enhance their lives. They are proud that the museum owns them. Someday you’ll learn that sure, education, outreach programs, liaison with colleges and universities, publishing books and articles is important – but they all pale in comparison to collecting treasures. Collecting is still what it’s all about. Collecting is why people come in the doors. The Juan de Pareja will be the biggest piece of education material you’ve got going for you. The point is – and someday you’ll experience it yourself – that you have to have the guts to reach out and grab for the very best!”

The meeting ended. Harry Parker left, his face black with anger.

The purchase of Juan de Pareja was almost exactly forty years ago. There’s a lot going on in what Hoving – and Parker – say here (or to be more accurate, what Hoving recalls them saying, twenty years later). How much of it is still true? How much of it do you agree or disagree with?

Is collecting still what it’s all about? Do museums exist to collect treasures?

Are these treasures the biggest pieces of educational materials that museums have? Do a museum’s objects have to be “treasures” in order to educate appropriately?

What else would you do with $5.5 million – do you think it’s fair or smart to spend that money on one piece of art?

(For the record, I very strongly disagree with Hoving in this passage; museums are educational institutions before they are collecting ones for me, but there is some truth to what he says. A museum’s collections – whether “treasures” or more ordinary objects – are its greatest educational assets.)

Improv at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

You might well have seen this already – it’s gone viral in museum circles – but just in case you haven’t: King Philip IV recently signed autographs in front of his Velazquez portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Well, sort of.

Scroll down and read the comments on Improv Everywhere’s write-up of the stunt. They’re from an obviously biased source – most people loved the prank – but they also do not seem to be typical museum goers. Here’s a comment that struck fear and hope into my heart: “Museums are so stuffy and pretentious…they need things like this to make them fun places for real human beings. Brilliant!!!!”

Did the Met security guard do the right thing in ushering the actors out? Should museums as a whole be encouraging more of this sort of thing – or less?

(In my ideal world, the Met let them go on for at least an hour, and then sat down to meet with the group about more museum-themed pranks – spontaneous, charming expressions of whimsy that inject life into the galleries. But maybe some of you disagree with me! Comment on this post and let’s start a conversation.)

A Guide to Guidestar

With the advent of the internet age, we all have a LOT more tools in our hands to begin to learn about specific organizations – and particularly specific museums. Whether you’re doing some research into a museum you’d like to work for, trying to get a good picture for how a museum of a certain size operates, or considering donating to a museum, there are some great tools out there that are promoting transparency and openness for nonprofit organizations.

Today, we’re highlighting Guidestar.

Guidestar is essentially a database of all sorts of nonprofit information. Organizations can establish their profiles and post information – financial statements, programs and events, staff listings, and recent news items. There’s also a section in which the organization can advertise its current funding needs.

Guidestar’s mission is: “to revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving.”

To access the full capabilities of Guidestar, you’ll need to register. It’s easy and free, and they send a minimum of email. So, start here.

Once you’ve registered, you can navigate the site by searching for a specific organization, or try a more advanced search for organizations in a particular area or focus. Doing a general search on “museum” brings up some of the heavy hitters on the first page:

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum of Modern Art

American Museum of Natural History

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Field Museum of Natural History

Organizations are responsible for updating their own information, so what you see is what the museum gives you. The Met, for example, hasn’t put up their budget numbers, but they have linked to their 2007-2009 990 tax forms and their 2010 Annual Report. (Watch this space for a guide to interpreting museum annual reports, by the way.) They don’t have a lot under staff or programs, either.

The American Museum of Natural History offers some different information. It lists all its board members, and gives a programs overview that includes its budget: almost $149 million. The MFA Houston also has all its board members and programs information, though no budget.

After quite a bit of searching and clicking, the best museum profile I found belonged to our local USS Constitution Museum. They have background statements, staff information, financial information, programs information, and they’ve even put up some of their funding goals. Bravo to them. (You’ll notice that a Guidestar user has also given the museum an enthusiastic five star review!)

Most museums put a bare minimum of information in Guidestar, which is a shame – it’s a powerful tool that’s quick and simple to update. Administrative and financial transparency is a hot topic in the nonprofit world right now – check out the Christian Science Monitor’s Guide to Giving for recent articles about that very subject.

Think about it: if you’re trying to figure out where to donate your hard-earned money, do you give to the organization that’s tight-fisted and secretive about how it’s going to use that money, or do you want an organization who opens its books and says “here, here’s how your $20 made a substantive difference in the way we do our work”?

Guidestar also offers other tools for nonprofit professionals, including a series of webinars about development, community outreach, and other important topics.

Education Assistant for Studio Programs [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Education Assistant for Studio Programs, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the world¹s finest museums, seeks an
Education Assistant for Studio Programs to teach and help plan, implement
and evaluate a range of programs that enable youth and adult audiences,
including practicing artists, to explore artistic processes using the
collections and exhibitions as sources for study, creativity, and
inspiration. S/he teaches studio and gallery programs; develops or
co-develops projects and provides feedback on teaching plans and workshop
proposals; facilitates programs and events; and ensures quality art
experiences by managing daily logistics and helping to evaluate programs.
As project manager for select multi-age, multidisciplinary programs such as
festivals and thematic public events, s/he collaborates with a range of
Museum staff, contributes to content development, and ensures effective and
timely implementation of all program details. The Education Assistant works
closely with Administration staff to manage the flow and organization of
art supplies used across Education programs and implements systems for
maintaining efficiency and care of materials. S/he reports to the Assistant
Educator for Studio Programs.


* Teach studio and gallery programs for a range of audiences, including
families, teens, adults and school children of various backgrounds and
skill levels.

* Assist with recruiting, scheduling, supervising, and communicating with
teaching artists, special guests invited to teach, and interns and
volunteer assistants.

* Develop projects and teaching plans for studio activities and provide
feedback on workshop and course proposals and plans.

* Project-manage select multi-audience, multi-modal programs such as
festivals and thematic public programs in the Museum¹s galleries and

* Assist with program evaluation, analysis and reporting on an ongoing

* Help attract participants to programs by initiating promotional efforts
and working with others in the department and the Museum to bring
visibility to programs.

* Support internal and external communication about programs, serving as
primary contact for inquiries related to program registration and details
and providing Education Publications as well as interested audiences with
accurate information.

* Work closely with the operational staff members who manage the Uris
Center for Education to monitor supply use and periodically revisit and
update parameters for supply management and studio/classroom space use.

* Assist in the monitoring of budgets, tracking of statistics, and details
of day-to-day program implementation.

* Other related duties


Experience and Skills:

* Minimum 2 years of experience working in or with museums.

* Minimum 2 years of experience teaching a range of audiences in a studio
or art setting.

* Demonstrable skills in teaching hands-on studio art courses and workshops
as well as teaching with original works of art in a gallery setting.

* Previous experience coordinating staff, volunteers, interns, and teaching
artists in a program.

* Experience in supply management and organization.

* Experience implementing evaluation methods and conducting teacher and
participant observations/interviews.

* Excellent organizational skills, including the ability to attend to
details, multitask, and proactively follow through on projects.

* Experience with a diversity of outreach methods for building new

* Excellent collaboration skills and demonstrated capacity to communicate
effectively and professionally with different constituencies, verbally and
in writing, within an institutional context.

Knowledge and Education:

* Masters in studio art, museum education or studies, art history, or
related fields preferred

* Demonstrated awareness of traditional art making processes and knowledge
of contemporary art practices

* Strong awareness of the artistic and cultural landscape in New York City.

* Basic understanding of how to use online and digital resources to
complement, intensify, or expand program impact.

* Command of Microsoft Office Suite and solid computer skills required.
Knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite or related imaging software preferred.

Application Deadline: September 28, 2012

The Education Assistant, Studio Programs is full-time and includes full
benefits. Salary will be commensurate with experience. Send cover letter,
indicating position of interest, resume, and salary history to:

as a Word attachment only, with ³Educ Asst/Studio Prog² in the subject line
or mail to:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028

Equal Opportunity Employer