Reverse declines in museum attendance with free admission

Surmountable Social Issues
Aug 19, 2023
5 min read
Free admission would bring back museum attendance / iStock

Issue 82 • Week of August 13, 2023

The Smithsonian was created 177 years ago last week and helped develop both the US and Washington, DC in particular as a major cultural destination.

Today, 8 in 10 Americans hold a favorable view of the arts. More citizens visit museums than all types of sporting events combined, although attendance is down considerably compared to before the pandemic which incurs a great cost to our society and even our health. These pillars of communities contribute $50 billion to our economy and only receive a quarter of their funding from taxpayer dollars, in sharp contrast to the professional sports teams who profit from publicly funded stadium subsidies to the tune of $500 million on average per venue.

The original mission or even legislation establishing many of these iconic institutions was to remain largely free for residents, similar to the public good inherent in libraries and city parks.

Calls are growing to take museums to task for veering from their original responsibility to citizens. Administrators are also finally being challenged for their part in prolonging inequity in access and representation. However, out-of-touch boards are responding by approving even higher admission fees that will only repel more crowds; studies have shown every 10% increase reduces attendance by over 5%.

How can we entice crowds back to museums?

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