Last week officials at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum announced that admission to the museum will cost between $20-$25 when it opens in 2014. The memorial plaza, which opened in 2011, will continue to be free (there is a $2 service fee for online ticket reservations). Not surprisingly, this announcement has turned out to be controversial to say the least. Some common reactions I’ve seen online include a few standard themes:
- “It’s not a business – it’s a memorial”
- The admission fee is “disrespectful” or “too much”
- The admission should be a “suggested donation”
There are also numerous comments regarding why there should be no museum at all, however, in this post I want to focus on cost.
So, should the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum be free?
- It is not free to operate a museum – especially a museum with a need (and a plan) for heightened security, like this one. The museum will have a significant “cost recovery” period (planning/development, consultants, design, construction, etc.), not to mention the cost of general day-to-day operations (staff, utilities, security). And while the tragedy it commemorates is a public one, the museum itself is a not-for-profit endeavor, without a major endowment (yet) or other source of regular operational funds to keep it afloat; fundraising, grants, AND admission costs are necessary.
- Museum officials have stated that the museum will be free during certain hours every week and will offer student and senior discounts. There will be opportunities for those who cannot afford the admission price to visit the museum.
- New York City is home to a lot of museums – both public and private – with a variety of admission price structures; some are free, some suggest an amount, and some, yes, charge $20+. The announced admission price is not unheard of. Given the location, the subject matter and the cost to create (and don’t forget operate) the museum, $20 – $25 seems fair.
- There is significant precedent. There is a charge to tour the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and the Historic Sites at Pearl Harbor (admission to World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is free) – both sites of tragedy, mourning, and reflection.
USA Today quoted Joseph Daniels, President of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, saying, “We decided that it’s more fiscally prudent to have a straight ticket charge.” Yes. Museums need to be fiscally prudent. Funding is competitive and some of the most respected museums in the U.S. are facing significant cuts (the Field Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Baltimore Museum of Art – just to name a few). While it could be argued that the annual budget projections may not be fiscally prudent – an estimated $60 million/year to operate the museum – the costs are real and the admission price is necessary to assist in covering those costs.
For those arguing on behalf of the families affected by 9/11 and the terror attack in 1993, I might suggest (I’m sure I’m not the first or only) that the museum consider gifting lifetime memberships to the immediate families of the victims, survivors, and responders. It is their experiences, their stories, their loss, their triumphs, and their lives that will be reflected, remembered, and honored in the exhibition halls of the museum for generations to come.
At the end of the day, I believe people will visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and will pay admission, regardless of the price – to mourn, to remember, and to pay their respects the thousands who lost their lives, while reflecting on an event that changed our nation forever.
I agree with Daniels when he says, “This [the museum] is something that is going to be important and is going to be worth the expenditure.” I also believe that it is going to be worth the cost of admission, even if that cost is $25/person. Do you?