Please note: I have not visited the Barnes (however, I hope to visit this summer). If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the new pricing structure.
Today the Barnes Foundation raised their ticket prices. You may have read about it last week.
- Tickets for adults will now cost $22 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and $18 from 3 p.m. until closing.
- Tickets for older visitors will cost $20 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and $15 from 3 p.m. until closing.
- For students with ID, $10 (all hours).
- Admission is free for area art-college students and children under 5, active military personnel, and members.
- Admission is free the first Sunday of each month.
- Audio tours and admission to special exhibitions are included with admission.
While the increase is a 22% hike above the previous ticket price (during certain operating hours), that is not what people were/are talking about.
What attracted attention to the price increase was the reason for the change in pricing. An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer stated:
Officials at the gallery on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway said that the increase would generate revenue, but that the main motive was to relieve congestion during high-traffic periods and to increase use of the Barnes audio guide, which now carries injunctions about appropriate gallery behavior.
Barnes President and CEO, Derek Gillman, was quoted, in the same article, saying:
“We’re seeing many more people not familiar . . . with what is proper behavior.” He added that the gallery wanted those additional visitors, but with new gallery goers “we’re seeing more transgressions of people touching things and getting too close” to the art, he said.
The new admission price includes the audio tour, which was previously available for an additional $5 on top of the previous $18 admission price. In addition to providing information about artwork at the museum, the audio tour also cautions visitors against touching art and standing too close to paintings and sculptures.
I’ve read several comments, on different articles, stating that the Barnes “polices” each gallery space with highly visible guards and marked lines on the floor indicating that the visitor should step no further to the artwork. Have you visited? Was this reflective of your experience?
To throw another wrench in this story, the Barnes Foundation has been in its downtown Philadelphia location for about a year (May 19, 2013 will make one year). Why the move? To be more accessible and, in turn, make more money. Why does it matter to this post? The move itself was controversial (I’m sure it still is). However, according to a story on NPR, the move was needed for the Barnes Foundation to survive. Foundation members testified that the Barnes was going broke in Merion, a suburb of Philadelphia.
While high traffic periods can be stressful, high attendance should be a welcome “problem” for the Barnes to have. Heavy traffic, at any price, means more revenue. By raising prices – as a source of financial crowd control – is the intent/expectation to target those who may not know and/or understand museum etiquette? Who is most affected by this increase? Does the museum see a direct correlation between the “transgressors” and those who will be affected by the increase? Will visitation decline as a result? Considering they are located in a city with 7.6% unemployment, it’s a possibility. Raising prices to increase revenue is one thing, raising prices to keep a certain clientele out of the Barnes during certain hours is another. Additionally, I wonder what the attitude is towards Free Sundays. Is there high traffic and are audio tours are included in the experience?
In order to address “proper behavior” in a gallery – I hope the Barnes looks at this as a teachable moment. Moving locations, heck, moving a collection of this caliber, from the suburbs to a downtown urban location provides an opportunity for community programming. Instead of simply saying, “don’t touch the artwork,” explain why – make the museum experience about the visitor – not the collection. Visitors make the collections viable, not the other way around.
What do you think? Is this a smart move for the Barnes or will it simply move their “peak” time to the afternoon (when prices are reduced), facing the same issue they are dealing with now? Have they priced themselves out? Does the reason for the increased price sound elitist or is it simply a poor choice of words or way to address a larger opportunity?