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.

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