5.01.2009

fascinating but overpriced culture

We went to the ROM yesterday, mainly to see the Egyptian Book of the Dead, as the exhibit ends May 10 and I'm away next week.

The Royal Ontario Museum is a wonderful natural-history and world-heritage museum, and all the exhibits are very well done. But admission prices are so high as to make it inaccessible to great numbers of people.

Twenty-two dollars for adults, $19 for teens and $15 for kids must be completely out of the question for most families. I know kids go on school trips, but a family outing to a museum is very different, and should be possible. And it's not just for the kids. Many adults never had the opportunity to go to museums when they were children, and taking their own kids could be a great experience for them, too.

Even the ROM's reduced-admission night (Friday) is half-price, not free as is often the case. Individual membership is $90, so unless you'll go at least four times a year and use some of the other perks, that's not a good value. At $22 a pop, even someone with a steady income who is motivated to see certain exhibits, as I am, thinks twice before strolling in.

My co-worker-friend CK, who has four children, took her family to Ottawa and Quebec City for March break. (They included a day-trip to the Ice Hotel, inspired by ours!) CK told me all the museums in Ottawa were free or almost free, so they were able to do everything - including trying things that they were unsure of, because it was all affordable. That's exactly what cultural institutions should strive for.

Having worked in arts management for a time, I know that ticket prices are all down to fundraising. Foundations, corporate sponsorship and government grants subsidize the cost of running a museum. I'm assuming that ROM governance knows their admission fees are too high, but can't do any better. At least I hope that's the case.

One thing about $22 admission, though: it does motivate you to stick around. The Book of the Dead exhibit is excellent, if you love ancient artifacts as we do, especially those that involve writing, storytelling and mythology. But it's a small exhibit, and we also spent time looking at other Egyptian artifacts, some world cultural displays, birds, bats, and dinosaur skeletons.

I overdosed on New York City's excellent American Museum of Natural History when I worked as a nanny, so it's been a while since I've marveled at dinosaurs bones. The ROM's collection is very impressive. And I still love the new building.

14 comments:

L-girl said...

Why do I think the name Mike Harris is going to appear in comments...?

impudent strumpet said...

I don't know if it was Mike Harris (or not entirely at least) because I'm pretty sure the Friday nights were free in...it would have been 2002, I think. There was one summer when I was in uni where we went there multiple times on the free/cheap evening, and I don't think we would have gone multiple times if it was $10.

I love wandering around museums casually and just looking at whatever strikes my interest, but I don't enjoy it when I feel pressured or obligated to look at absolutely everything, which I totally would at $22.

L-girl said...

"I love wandering around museums casually and just looking at whatever strikes my interest,"

Me too. I love going to a special exhibit, but also seeing other things without a game plan.

"but I don't enjoy it when I feel pressured or obligated to look at absolutely everything, which I totally would at $22."

Exactly. I didn't feel pressured to look at absolutely everything, but I can well understand feeling that way for $22, and I would have once, too.

Also

"There was one summer when I was in uni where we went there multiple times on the free/cheap evening, and I don't think we would have gone multiple times if it was $10."

A great example of why lower admission prices are necessary.

Cid said...

We used to have a family membership when my kids were small and we lived in the city. It was worth it then to be able to go and stay as long or short as they wanted. We have been a couple of times since and they let two of my kids in on my friend's membership so I only had to pay for myself and one other, more than the Metro Zoo will allow. And the Museum's in Ottawa are a bargain, especially since parking was easy and usually free, unlike in TO.

Scott M. said...

And if you live in Ottawa, you can get a free family pass through the library to go to a raft of museums. There's a wait list, but if you put a hold on it you will eventually get it.

impudent strumpet said...

Oh, I forgot! Toronto has that too!

L-girl said...

Museum passes for residents, that's a great idea! I'm not a resident of either city, but I hope a lot of people take advantage of that.

I couldn't get the library link to work, but I found this. It looks like the pass works best alone, or with one other person and you can split the cost, with one person getting in for free.

Passes are good for one week, which isn't great, but if your schedule is flexible enough, it might work.

Kim_in_TO said...

When I was teaching, I took my class to the ROM. They had the best facilities for kids, bar none. They had a system of coat racks on wheels which roll out, with rows of hooks for easy access on top and shelves for box- or bag-lunches. This is along the side of a huge open space, and you can just sit down on the floor to eat. (Tell me where else you can do that!)

What was puzzling and utterly disappointing was that when I called to book our trip, their visitation schedule appeared to have been designed without any regard to how a school runs. The time slots made it very difficult to arrange a trip for younger children, starting and ending at weird times, making it too long to do without a lunch break but arriving too close to lunch time or too late to have lunch there.

For a place which is a natural destination for school groups, it was weird seeing this discrepancy. This was quite sometime ago; I hope they've gotten their act together since.

impudent strumpet said...

This is along the side of a huge open space, and you can just sit down on the floor to eat.If you think about it, isn't it weird that that's normal for kids? Because it totally is normal, it happened all the time when I was a kid (maybe even during our class trip to the ROM) and I didn't think anything of it.

But you'd never take a bunch of adults and say "Okay, everyone can sit on the floor of this empty room and eat," and consider it a permanent facility to be used every day for normal operations.

L-girl said...

"This is along the side of a huge open space, and you can just sit down on the floor to eat.

If you think about it, isn't it weird that that's normal for kids? Because it totally is normal, it happened all the time when I was a kid"

I never saw that when I was a kid. Any place I went with a group, either through school or summer camp, always had tables for us, either picnic tables or regular tables. Even if we were given boxed lunches, we always had at least a bench to sit on. What a funny difference!

impudent strumpet said...

That's interesting! I wonder if the difference is geographical or generational or just a fluke?

dogsled_stacie said...

Working in the museum field, it's interesting (and useful!) to hear people's comments on museum admissions. I believe our top museum admission price is $7! And we are really struggling with whether to raise our own admission price from $6! (it's been that price for the last decade)

Sure our museums aren't quite as large as the ROM or CMN, we don't have the traveling exhibits (yet!) that those in the big cities do, but we all go out of our way to put on extra programming. And we focus on the locals, a LOT. And I think our museums are all fascinating in their own way!!

Family cost is a HUGE factor for us, our yearly family pass is $25. In the winter we get quite a few families or just one parent and kids come in to spend the whole afternoon. And they often come in every weekend.

$22 for a visit is pretty crazy, and you aren't going to get families coming in every weekend at those prices.

Then again, running a museum is certainly not a money-maker even with those costly admission prices. As you mention l-girl, the funding sources are key and no doubt contribute to admission cost.

L-girl said...

It's interesting to hear the contrast!

It's safe to assume that the ROM has a much bigger budget to support than Stacie's museum. But small museums are so wonderful. And they hadn't raised the price in a full decade - and then raised it only $1! Brilliant.

dogsled_stacie said...

And we're one of the bigger museum/interp. centres in the Yukon. You can get into the Old Log Church museum in Whitehores for $3!!