The Cost of Art Appreciation

Beach Sky Study Digital Painting
Beach Sky Study 1

There is bad news in store for folks visiting the Art Institute of Chicago. As of May 23 admission to this world class art museum will jump 50 to 70 percent. General admission will be $18 for adults, up from $12, and $12 for seniors and students, up from $7 – a 70 percent increase. There is no charge for children under 12. The museum has said that the extra fees charged for admission to special exhibits, like the current Edward Munch art exhibit Becoming Edward Munch: Influence, Anxiety, and Myth, will not rise – at least not this year. According to an Art Institute spokesman, the admission increase is needed to keep pace with rising costs. Note that general admission fees typically make up a small fraction of an art museum's overall income. In 2006 general admission fees represented 9 percent of the Art Institute's museum-based expenses. Evidentially endowments, government grants, and donations from private donors and foundations are down for museums in general – increasing the pressure on museums to raise their admission fees.

It was only in 2006 that the Art Institute began charging admission. Before that there was an optional admission donation. This new increase is being justified on the grounds that there are other art museums charging higher admission fees; that it has been five years since an increase; and that the addition of the Modern Wing (264,000 square feet costing $283 million) adds to the visitor's experience.

For comparison purposes, here are the admission costs of some other major art museums based on information from the article Filling out the picture on Art Institute Admission that appeared in the March 15, 2009 Chicago Tribune:

  • $20 – Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • $20 (optional) – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • $18 – Guggenheim Museum, New York
  • $18 – Art Institute of Chicago new admission fee
  • $17 – Boston Museum of Fine Art, Boston
  • $12 (optional) – Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
  • $12 – Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
  • $12 – Art Institute of Chicago current admission fee
  • Free – Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland
  • Free – Getty Center, Los Angeles
  • Free – National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
  • Free – Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

For those on a budget, the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as the other major Chicago museums, still offers free admission days throughout the year. Art Institute admission is also free from 5 to 8 p.m. every Thursday and on Friday nights from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There will also be free admission during a celebration of the Modern Wing planned for May 16-22. Note that Chicago residents can get free admission through the Chicago Public Library – fair since the museum is on land owned by the Chicago Park District.

While I sympathize with the Art Institute's plight, raising admission fees could not come at a worse time. When one considers the costs of transportation, parking, and lunch, a family outing to the Art Institute is no bargain. This admission fee increase could actually result in a decrease in income for the museum since it will probably reduce the number of visitors per year – visitors who often purchase tickets for special exhibits, dine at the museum's restaurant, and spend money in the gift shop.

And if President Obama has his way, things may get worse for our nation's museums given that Obama wants to limit the ability of those making more than $250,000 a year to claim a tax deduction for their charitable donations. Interestingly Obama's plan only penalizes those who give something back to their community and not those who don't. The net result of this plan may well be to bring about even more admission fee increases as museums attempt to make up shortfalls in other fundraising areas.

My advice: visit an art museum today – before it becomes too expensive to.

Post Illustration: Beach Sky Study 1

I've illustrated this post with Beach Sky Study 1 which is an experimental digital landscape painting.


| Return to the Blog Index | This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 17th, 2009 at 1:28 pmand is filed under Art and Artists.

2 Responses to “The Cost of Art Appreciation”

  1. Sharon says:
    March 17, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    I thought given your interest in digital art, readers of your website might be interested in the following Contest which closes in a few weeks. There's a $300 Canadian Dollar prize for the winning designer of a Virtual Robert Burns (the Scottish poet) monument that will be displayed by Simon Fraser University on their website. I've listed the details below, but you can also find them at:

    Contest to Create Virtual Burns Memorial

    The Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University is holding a contest to create a virtual memorial to Robert Burns that is suitable for a twenty-first century mobile and globalized world. Statues, busts and portraits played an important part in interpreting Burns in nineteenth-century culture. We are looking for an image more suitable for our contemporary time and media in order to convey the fact that Burns's messages regarding universal brotherhood (and, by extension, sisterhood), respect for nature, and the uplifting power of the human spirit have never been more relevant. The deadline for entry is April 1, 2009. The winning design will be awarded $300 (Canadian) and will appear in Second Life on SFU's island. (Second Life is a virtual environment increasingly popular with students and educators interested in collaborative virtual learning). The unveiling will be at the Transatlantic Burns Conference, April 7-9 at SFU. For more details or to submit an entry (preferably in digital format), contact: Leith Davis at [email protected]

  2. Plaxco says:
    March 17, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Hi Sharon,

    Well your comment has nothing to do with the Art Institute but being a fan of Robert Burns (not to mention also being part Scottish), I say thank you for taking the time to bring this contest to my attention and to the attention of my readers.

    While I have several friends who are active in Second Life, I myself have never taken the dive into that virtual world.

    For fans of Robert Burns set to music, may I recommend Jean Redpath's The Songs of Robert Burns, Volumes 1 and 2.