Guest blogger Lanie DeLay is a Dallas-based artist and has recently been living and working in New York.
Having been to the Dallas Museum of Art twice in the last couple of weeks, I have been reminded of Jerome Weeks’ recent post regarding the museum’s decision to end its free Thursday evenings. In particular, I have been considering a reader’s comment that followed, saying that the decision is sad but understandable, and I am compelled to disagree. It was not an inevitable policy change; there are other options.
Because attracting new visitors is crucial to finding long-term sustaining patrons, almost every single major museum in the U.S. participates in weekly or daily free, pay-what-you-wish or reduced admission times. It is well-known that it is one of the very best ways to bring in those who might not otherwise visit, especially first-time visitors, students and many artists, for whom even $5 can be a considerable deterrent. Peter Simek of D Magazine wrote eloquently of the value he and his wife derived from the museum’s free nights over the years, and indeed Thursday nights were when many Dallas artists typically went there. For better or for worse, people’s schedules are such that once-a-month reduced or free admission times are not nearly as likely to be taken advantage of as weekly ones, particularly when it is only from 11 to 5 on a Tuesday. Even if it were on a Saturday, if one were missed, an exhibit a visitor is hoping to see may well be down by the next month.
If free admission is absolutely not feasible for the DMA, it should follow the lead of the Guggenheim or the many, many other American museums that have weekly pay-what-you-wish times (or the Metropolitan, which allows this every day). Alternatively, the DMA could seek the support of a new corporate sponsor to help provide weekly free or reduced admission visiting times now that Starbucks is no longer filling that role for the museum. Target is such a sponsor for over 100 museums across the country, and Wells Fargo and CIT continue to sponsor a number of museums’ special admissions, despite problems in the financial sector. Another option is raising the general admission price. At $10 per visit, the DMA’s standard admission price is a good deal lower than many museums across the country. With a small increase, the museum would be well on its way to compensating for the cost of its invaluable Thursday night service to the community.
There are still other ways to sustain the DMA and help build it into a better museum. The national media has focused on the turnaround that has been going on at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, due in no small part to the heroic efforts of Eli Broad; similarly, Leonard Lauder has given extensive financial support to the Whitney Museum, as has David Rockefeller to the Museum of Modern Art. With the extraordinary donations of the Rachofsky, Rose and Hoffman family collections to the DMA, Dallas has seen that there is a will to support its only major art museum amongst private citizens. Perhaps there are additional sources of funding in the metropolitan area. If we as a city are in doubt as to the value of a museum to its population, we should look no further than the recent article and slide show by the New York Times‘ Pulitzer-winning art critic Holland Cotter about his experiences as a boy in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, or the video Jerome Weeks re-posted here on Art&Seek only a day before writing on the DMA’s Thursday night policy change. Continuing to be open late on Thursday nights but now requiring full admission price is likely to result in lower attendance and high staffing costs. It was a sharp pain to be told repeatedly upon arriving for a recent panel discussion on the state of the arts in Dallas that attending the lecture was free, but I would have to come back and pay $10 if I looked at any of the art between the entrance and the Horchow Auditorium, where the discussion was to take place. In light of all the bad news for art entities in Dallas over the last year, this is a particularly unfortunate, unnecessary decision for the art community of Dallas.