Considering the average earned revenue from ticket sales for museums is just 7% of their entire earnings each year, the cost of admission can make a large difference to any institution. However, museums are widely regarded, and rightly so, as places where anyone can experience and learn, regardless the cost. While some museums, mostly government funded, are completely free, others struggle to sustain that title. With large expectations and sometimes very little to no support, museums and their boards are left to make ends meet. This can controversially be seen with the Berkshire Art Museum of late, but we are steadily seeing the results of impossible budgets throughout the country.
Ironically, the wealthiest and most elite of art institutions in the United States charge the highest entrance fee. Obviously seen as advantageous if the demand is high and the location is in a largely trafficked area, these museums utilize their crowds to maintain their buildings and programming because, why wouldn't they? While government funding offers budget cuts, museums must turn to the people to support their endeavors and rely on their "value" to the communities they serve.
As an alternative to the general admission fee, some museums have begun to rely on the "Special Exhibition" to fill in the financial gaps. Recently, The Broad, a completely free museum in Los Angeles, announced they would be releasing all of their available tickets, all at once, to see Yayoi Kusama's very popular Infinity Room (seen above) at a whopping $25 for adults.
While this is not a new concept, The Broad's special exhibition tickets capped at $12 last year for the Cindy Sherman show with months of open time slots and the general admission offered an outstanding display of modern art to boot. This special exhibition price also sets a precedent for this Yayoi Kusama installation as it was previously free earlier in the year at the Hirshorn Museum and the Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. While taking the technique of a box office, releasing in a limited and valued quantity, and raising the price to a never before seen high, The Broad is promoting exclusionary behavior and abusing "surface-level hype".
The Broad is not the only institution to utilize special exhibition prices. In most cases this pricing makes financial sense, considering a higher price to display what would usually be outside of the museum's normal means. Special exhibitions offer programming that would usually not be available and should be considered a viewing opportunity. However, with this terms steadily growing frequency, there might be abuse in its "power".
As museums search for funding and support, wealthy donors offer a possible solution. In an effort to keep museum doors open to any and all public, donors could stipulate, along with their donation, the need for free or low attendance fees. By doing so, museums would have to be held accountable that the donation be used to prevent elitist prevention of learning. With the gap widening in so many aspects of the economic world, museums and education should not be included in that list.