For a long time museums have played important storage and access to a people’s artistic, scientific, social and political heritage. As time progresses our museums are becoming even more relevant and sought after than ever. Enabling the access of these important cultural resources to everyone would have enormous benefits in encouraging an active citizenship. Free-admission entry has been a focus of debates in several states throughout Europe and is even effective in a number of states, with the United Kingdom setting the pace. This report reviews the practicability and the impact of the policy by analyzing examples of projects that have been implemented before in England, United States, France to support why a free admission policy to our museums has so many benefits and should be put in place. The project will focus more on the economic impact of the practice.
Though museums are designed to attract the whole population across all age groups, the visits form the youths most often exceeds the visits of the adults. For instance when the free-admission policy was tried in 2008 ordered by President Zarkozy, it was noted that the was an increase in the museums visits especially from the youths and therefore France made the entry free for youths up to the age of 26. The majority of adults never visit a museum, preferring instead leisure pursuits such as football, the cinema or clubbing. Visits from the lower economic group are usually so minimal where charges are applicable and high. The number of visits to museums may increase or drop depending on several factors, among them entry fee and the wide variety of exhibitions. The supply of museum services is not easily adaptive to increases in demand due to the high cost involved. A change in entry fee has been observed to lead to changes in demand especially among the low economic class. Diversifying the variety of exhibitions is a key factor to attracting a broad audience (Youngs 2011).
Musuems especially the private operate their own prices. Unlike in the UK where most of the museums have scrapped their entry fee, in the US only a few important museums and galleries are free. This however does not discourage expensive museums like MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art) and the huge Metropolitan Museum in New York. Whereas the remarkable Smithsonian museums offers free admissions, MoMa and Met Museums charge $25 (Dowd 2011) and still manages to achieve higher museums visits. MoMa even found that an increase of $5 had no effect on visit numbers. The change in percentage visits to a by a specific demographic group to a museum divided by the percentage change in the entry fee is referred to as own price elasticity. For instance in the UK visits from the low economic group rose from by 6% from the year 2005 and 2006 due to a 100% drop in admission fee to UK museums. The own price elasticity in that case was:
Ped= 6/100 = 0.06. This implies that demand is price elastic for this group. For the case of MoMa on the other hand, demand was not price elastic.
Cross-price elasticity on the other hand would be described for example by the change in museums visit in a museum due to the changes in entry fee in other museums.
For example scrapping of entry charges at public museums may lead to an increase in foreigners’ visits in private museums which retains its charges, due to close proximity with the free ones if it offers different variety of exhibitions. Income elasticity is the responsiveness of museums visits to the changes in incomes. An increase in incomes coupled with non-changing incomes may lead to higher museums visits, we noted that low economic classes visit museums lesser than the higher economic classes. This indicates that the museums services are ‘normal goods.’ This has been noted in the UK in the year 2010/11 (Pes 2012).
Museums will have little value if there do not attain a significant number of visits. The successful running of museums requires the identification of possible market failure so as to avoid them. One major cause of low visits is a limited variety of exhibitions and failing to update the exhibitions. Visitors will be bored if they find the same exhibits items over and over or are provided with a very limited of the exhibits and low visit turnout can be the only effect. High entry charges or raising of these entry charges can also lead abrupt drop in visits like it happened with Royal Observatory in the U.K. Competitions from other museums offering visitors more satisfaction of their money and time would also have the same effect. Lack of funding from the government or whichever body that supports the running of a museum would lead to provision of poor quality of services and lack of a varied exhibitions; this has the effect of turning visitors away.
The key to pulling in people across age and class divides and avoiding a market failure is providing wide varieties of exhibitions (Youngs 2011). The government should set standards of services that each museum must meet to ensure that visitors are satisfied and keep coming and recommending the museums to others. Maintaining a flow of visitors in high volume is only possible where there satisfaction is guaranteed and therefore museums must ensure a mix of interest-catching exhibits and vary the often. Avoiding a market failure would therefore require a sustained support from the sponsoring governments. Another measure to avoid a market failure is ensuring that admission fee is not so high as to be an impediment to interested visitors. The government could interne by setting a maximum ceiling admission fee that no museum should exceed, this way most of the willing visitors could afford more visits. Inexpensive pricing and differential pricing is a strategy being applied in several museums around Europe (Gordon 2011) and could help avoid a market failure.
This strategy offers choices to visitors and accord logic by having only exhibits that are worthy having an extra cost. Free admissions would be able to address all the possible causes of market failure if well planned and supported by the government. This may however could raise visits so high so that opening hours need to be increased which attract more running cost. However these extra costs could be covered by other services within the museums such as hotels. Good planning here implies that the support from the government is able to sustain an effective running of the museums in whatever the economic situation. Promotion campaigns and marketing must is also key to avoiding a market failure. Marketing ensures that an interest is built on possible visitors who become aware of the items they will find on exhibits. Marketing could be done through outreach programs like what major institutions in the U.S. (Dowd 2011). The government could give instructions through the its media policy that its museum services are advertised to the citizens and also take steps to promote its museums heritage to the outside markets. This has the benefit of making the museum services known and brings in more visitors and tourism which earns the country more foreign exchange by boosting external tourism.
A close examination of the volumes of museums visits across Europe leads to the conclusion that the U.K. is experiencing an unprecedented increase in visitors especially from foreigners (Stoilas and Burn 2011). One may argue that paying using citizens taxes to provide services to foreigners is not justice to our citizens but then we need to look at the broader picture to realize that this actually offers a boost to the economy. By boosting tourism the country gains much more through other services consumed by the tourists such as transport and accommodation. A free entry also gives more satisfaction to the citizens who appreciate the country’s cultural heritage that encourage active citizenship. Therefore a free admission once adopted yields more value for the citizens’ taxes. Studies have also revealed that admissions fee raise less than ten percent of a museum budget (Stoilas and Burn 2011) which means that it may actually be more expensive for a country than allowing a free admissions given the many benefits outlined in this report.
I therefore highly recommend that we adopt the free admission policy to our museums. We must fund this project well enough though and market our services. This way we will be able to ensure good quality of exhibitions and services in all our museums and the benefits will be more than we can imagine. We should further encourage donations through donation points in our museums and by providing excellent satisfaction to our visitors we may as well be able to raise what the admission fee would have provided.
Dowd,V. (2011), ‘Museum entry fees: How the UK compares’, BBC News.,1 December, Viewed 12 November 2013,
< http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-15982797 >
Gordon, D. 2011, ‘New York’s great museums could do better’, The Arts Newspaper, 24 August, Viewed 12 November 2011,
Pes, J 2012, ‘Ten years of free entry, but can it last? The Arts Newspaper. 1 February, Viewed 12 November 2013,
Stoilas, H & Burns, G 2011, ‘To charge or not to charge’, The Arts Newspaper, 26 September, Viewed 12 November 2013,
Youngs,I. 2011, ‘Museums enjoy 10 years of freedom’, BBC News, 1 December, Viewed 12 November 2013, < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-15927593 >