This morning, the DMA called a press conference to announce that it is truly now the DMA. Its new logo and its new website say so: www.dma.org.
And, oh yes, this new DMA is now free. Or will be, January 21st.
It’s rare that the Dallas Museum of Art calls a press conference for anything other than a new exhibition or a major new hire. But its new free admission policy is more than just a big, open-armed welcome to anyone coming in the door. Free admission — except for touring exhibitions and special events — is the policy at a number of municipal art museums around the country, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which is what DMA director Maxwell Anderson (above) ran before he started in Dallas in January.
This new approach is actually more layered and innovative than that. It’s not a simple blanket policy of doing without ticket revenue and depending on philanthropy to make up the loss of around $1.2 million annually (general admission is now $10, with various discounts and free days).
Along with free admissions, the DMA will make membership free beginning Jan. 21. But those members will be called “DMA Friends” — and they can earn various rewards for doing such things as ‘liking’ the DMA on Facebook. These rewards can include free parking or access to special events.
Anderson believes this new approach by the DMA will become a model for the rest of the country. As he explained, the new policy is about removing any price barriers to attending the DMA, trying to engage a broader demographic that normally finds an art museum intimidating. The DMA, Anderson noted, is now the only Dallas cultural institution “of scale” that offers free admission.
New electronic kiosks in the lobby will be available to guide visitors through the process of registering as a Friend and the different “badges” that can be earned. Anderson predicted that the inevitable decline in ticket revenue will be allied to a “six-figure” expansion in attendance. This would break the long-standing DMA audience level of around 500,000 annual visitors. Even so, Anderson has long held that attendance — either general attendance or paid figures for specific exhibitions — is a simplistic yardstick for measuring a museum’s success. A free admissions policy for the DMA was rumored even before he arrived here in January. Yet Anderson seems willing to use the figures as a sign of the DMA’s changing status and its new philosophical re-orientation.
That’s because the new policy is a philosophical statement, he said. It acknowledges the museum’s role as a public, tax-supported institution for Dallas citizens and as a cultural institution whose purpose goes far beyond tourist attraction or revenue stream into areas that only private patronage can truly fund: research, conservation, advocating new artists, etc. It’s in those behind-the-scenes areas and in the closed-door philanthropy that funds them that Anderson has truly been applying new leadership, gaining new grants for an expanded conservation department, for instance, as well as creating the DMA’s “Laboratory for Museum Innovation.”
But the DMA Friends is really just a new, entry-level form of engagement. It’s only at the $100 level of support, for instance, that a DMA Friend gains the reciprocal benefits at other museums that has traditionally been part of the membership benefits package.
On the other hand, current DMA members — who number around 20,000 — will automatically be enrolled in the DMA’s new ‘premium’ level of membership now known as the DMA Partners. And the Partners have a complex tier of levels, and there’s still the upgrade to Donor Circle.
Read here for an extended consideration of what the DMA’s new admission and membership policies mean.
The DMA posted this video with Anderson explaining what’s up: