phile under: art

Giving It Away

access to arts institutions is critical issue

By Lisa Radon September 22, 2009

"Arts and culture are not a luxury, they are part of this city’s DNA. It is why people want to live and work here, and seven out of 10 tourists say it is a reason for their visit."

Does that sound familiar, Portland arts advocates? Sound like something Sam Adams might have said at a CAN meeting? Actually, it’s London’s mayor Boris Johnson.

It’s in context of a BBC story on Johnson recommending that in a recession London’s free arts institutions begin to be more aggressive about collecting donations. The story points to New York’s Metropolitan Museum, also technically free, but where the suggested donation of $20 for an adult is actively pursued as if it were an admission fee.

According to the story, Johnson frets that "free admission was leading some ‘cynical young people’ who visit the museums to conclude that what ’they’re seeing isn’t prized.’ He said charging might make them appreciate the exhibits more."

I love that. First of all, how could they learn to "prize" it at all if they were barred by price from seeing it in the first place? And secondly, name an American arts institution that wouldn’t like to get more young people through its doors, even the cynical among them. Does anyone besides Johnson have to be reminded that those young people are future arts supporters and advocates, are future patrons?

I’ll never stop being grateful to Gordon D. Sondland and Katherine J. Durant for a major gift last year to the Portland Art Museum that made admission free for young people in Portland. The museum continues to work toward a goal of an endowment that will ensure regular "opportunities to visit without charge." And we can all breath a sigh of relief that it looks like the Museum of Contemporary Craft’s commitment to free admission will remain intact (given its new PNCA partnership). Equity of access to culture is critical to growing support for institutions in all quarters.

I do agree with Johnson on the notion that, "arts and culture are not a luxury." But that means that access for all should be something we’re all working toward.

Big thanks to Lisa Hoang for the heads up on the BBC story that got me thinking.

Filed under
Show Comments