Could museums be free? Getty, LACMA and Hammer gave it a thought

Posted filed underBusiness, Discussions, Museums, Talks, USA.

Could museums be free? At the Zocalo panel on Friday with Getty director Timothy Potts, Hammer director Annie Philbin and LACMA director Michael Govan (from the left), MOCA’s finances were one (brief) topic of conversation. Personal finances were another: at the end of the panel, an audience member asked a question about making the museums more affordable or free.

So, could museums be free? Culture Monster reports that “each director had a different take. (Their answers appear about 55 minutes into the video now online at, which also ran a recap of the full panel here.)

“We’d love to make our museum free,” Philbin said. But she did note that a consultant brought in at one point made the argument that making museums free can make the experience seem less valuable for visitors. (Thursdays at the Hammer are free; the museum is also free to students, veterans and some other groups.)

Govan responded, “I can be honest, I’d rather be free. [But] it would severely limit the kinds and numbers of programs we could offer because our budgets would be smaller. We’ve tried in different ways and looked at free hours.”

Then he made a pitch for admission as a form of public philanthropy: “I think a certain amount of the public thinks that museums are — and the Getty is — on high, and it was one donor who largely established it, but other kinds of museums aren’t like that. They are actually funded by the public, directly…. We have some county money but that’s a generous one-third of our budget. So when people are paying, and it’s less than a movie ticket, they are actually contributing to a museum that serves a lot of people.”

Could museums be free? – Read on at Culture Monster

(Photo by Jake Fabricius/Zocalo / September 7, 2012)