The Price of Admission to America’s Museums Keeps Rising

“Then you had two factors: our bills were coming in and guests were not,” said Cody Hefner, a spokesman for the center, which eventually raised prices in 2022 to $22 for adult entry — almost a 50 percent increase from the fee of $14.50 nearly a decade ago. Hefner said that leaders are looking at new models to prevent further increases.

“What other revenue streams can we explore?” he asked. “Do we offer birthday packages, camps, date nights and evening hours? We can’t charge more for the same thing.”

Some institutions do say their attendance has fully come back, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Art. Eric Gewirtz, a spokesman for the Detroit museum, said membership has increased by nearly 2,000 subscriptions. But overall, arts organizations have struggled.

Raising ticket prices is so unpopular that many institutions have increased fees during periods of leadership transition to diffuse responsibility, several museum experts said. (Directors of the Whitney and the Guggenheim have both recently retired; at the Philadelphia Museum, Sasha Suda, its newly hired director and chief executive, had less than a year on the job when the museum raised its fees.)

Suda didn’t respond to a request for comment, but the museum spokeswoman, Maggie Fairs, said the admissions revenue would provide “operating support for the care of the world-renowned collections, the development of the internationally recognized exhibitions, and the presentation of public programs and educational activities.”

Harry Philbrick, a museum veteran who is interim executive director of the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, which has free admission, is especially worried that changing attitudes among consumers might lead to an existential crisis for the industry. “Museums are really struggling” in part because the internet has taught younger generations that culture should be cheap, if not free, Philbrick said. “If you are used to getting music basically for free on your phone, why pay for art?” he said. “The museum format is antithetical to how some people are used to getting culture.”

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