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Author Topic:   Proposal calls for Smithsonian admission charge
Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-13-2010 01:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a bipartisan committee created by the White House to identify "policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run," released a draft proposal Wednesday suggesting in part to cut the Smithsonian Institution's budget by $225 million.

The recommendation was made by the commission's co-chairs, former Republican Senator and Smithsonian Board of Regents member Alan Simpson and Clinton Administration Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. They suggested that to recoup the loss, the Smithsonian should begin charging a $7.50 admission fee per visit(or).

The Smithsonian's budget is projected to approach $1 billion in 2015. This option reduces net spending by charging a fee to Smithsonian visitors. There were about 30 million visitors to the 19 Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo in 2009. Under this option, $225 million, or less than a quarter of the Smithsonian's 2015 budget, would be paid for by charging visitors fees. Notable private museums across the United States tend to charge anywhere from $10 to $20 per visitor, with lower rates for children and seniors. World class zoos in the United States charge more, or closer to $20 or $25 per visitor. Raising $225 million in fees would average about $7.50 per visitor.
The Smithsonian responded Friday with a written statement:
The draft report released Nov. 10 by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform recommends that the Smithsonian's annual federal appropriation be reduced by $225 million and that the loss be recouped through the imposition of admission fees at Smithsonian museums.

The Smithsonian is the national museum and has been open -- free of charge -- for 164 years. In a sense, Americans already pay to visit the Smithsonian with their tax dollars, which provide about two-thirds of the Smithsonian's annual budget. Because there is no admission fee, people are able to see their national treasures, participate in educational programs and visit exhibitions regardless of their ability to pay.

The Commission's recommendation that the Smithsonian charge admission would create a barrier for many audiences -- those who are underserved and who would most benefit from exposure to the Smithsonian's collections, exhibitions and research.

The Commission's recommendation states that 30 million visitors come to Smithsonian museums every year. This is incorrect. The Smithsonian receives 30 million visits each year. Surveys have shown that most visitors go to more than one museum during a single visit, which means they are counted two or three times, depending on how many buildings they enter.

The recommendation does not appear to take into account the likelihood that an entrance fee may decrease the number of tourists, which would not only deprive many families of the benefit they have earned with their tax dollars, but would also have a negative impact on the business income earned in the Smithsonian's museum shops, restaurants and theaters.

Beyond the impact this would have to the National Air and Space Museum in general, a significant cut the Smithsonian's budget would call into further doubt the Institution's ability to afford acquiring space shuttle Discovery, as first reported by collectSPACE earlier this month.

MarylandSpace
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posted 11-13-2010 02:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MarylandSpace   Click Here to Email MarylandSpace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Smithsonian Museums are gems in our nation's capital. It would be a shame to discourage adults and school children from dreaming in these museums by charging a $7.50 admission.

Fezman92
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posted 11-13-2010 04:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fezman92   Click Here to Email Fezman92     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Are they even allowed to charge admission?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-13-2010 04:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As the Washington City Paper reports, citing a 2006 article by The Washington Post:
...four museums are legally forbidden from charging. The laws that created the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Portrait Gallery and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden prohibit admission fees. In addition, Charles Lang Freer's will, which provided for the creation of the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art, stated there could never be a charge.
Of course, as also noted by the article, Congress could introduce legislation to change that...

Delta7
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posted 11-13-2010 06:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The items in the Smithsonian are national treasures which belong to the people. Many of them were initially funded by tax payer dollars. Doesn't seem appropriate. But I'd still pay $7.50 for the privilege if it will help reduce the budget deficit, even in a small way.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 11-13-2010 07:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It should be noted that school children and adults go to museums in New York City, at least one of which has a "suggested" admission price much higher than $7.50. You can pay the price or you can pay less. (And when I did pay the suggested price, I was asked whether or not I wanted my change.) I don't know how their financials are, but I haven't heard of any monetary problems.

capoetc
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posted 11-13-2010 08:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
For what its worth, every single one of the Debt Commission's suggestions for cutting the budget has someone who is absolutely, positively against cutting that expenditure.

If one is going to reduce the US national debt, cuts are going to have to come not just on the margins, but deep, painful cuts to programs we would love to continue but just can't afford anymore.

We either need to make the decision to pay the piper now, or let the problem become a manifested crisis before addressing it.

But, don't worry ... I would be absolutely, completely stunned if the suggestions don't get watered down to the point where nothing is cut ... I highly doubt that even the newest Congressmen will stick to their guns regarding deficit reduction. I sincerely hope they do, but I'm not holding my breath.

cspg
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posted 11-14-2010 12:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Although this cartoon applies to the UK, the idea is the same: cut spending, don't raise taxes (at least directly), pass on the burden to the ones who can afford it.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 11-14-2010 07:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
TNSTAAFL.

Or to translate, free ain't free. Someone, somewhere's gotta pay for it.

mjanovec
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posted 11-14-2010 07:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't think anyone was suggesting that the Smithsonian was "free" even though they didn't charge admission. Obviously, it's funded through our tax dollars, so in that regard every taxpayer has already paid to help support the museum.

I could understand the argument that charging admission will shift the costs more towards the people that use the museum and away from the taxpayers. But I think access to our national treasures should be a right for every citizen...not just those who can afford it. (One could also make the same argument for visiting Kennedy Space Center too.) At least by funding the museum through tax dollars, the taxpayer's contribution is made in accordance to their income.

At the very least, I would strongly argue that charging an admission fee for children is a bad idea. (I would also argue that admission shouldn't be charged to adults who bring children to the museum.) Too many children already grow up without a good understanding of our history. Placing a financial restriction on children who want to access the museum isn't going to help matters any.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 11-14-2010 09:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I understand your point. But I also recognize that no one, particularly in this economy, wants their taxes raised. Place the public question: "Resolved: That one percent of an individual's yearly gross income goes toward funding of national museums" before the people and see how far it goes.

Even though that's only $100 for every $10,000 of income, I suspect most people would be against it. Personally, I love the Smithsonian museums as well as KSC, but I would be against it - I haven't been to KSC in about 15 years and Washington, DC in about half as much time. Even $100 is a lot for me - I think of that as either my biweekly food budget or just about monthly gas for the car.

Heck, if you want to talk about beneficial to the kids, I think higher education should be free and am amazed when my dad tells me classes at this one community college in NY used to be free to everyone (40 years ago.) But I know that can't be the case anymore.

Michael Ritter
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posted 11-14-2010 10:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Ritter   Click Here to Email Michael Ritter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I wouldn't be against a "voluntary" donation of $10 for adults. If you can or want to, you pay it. If you can't afford it or don't want to pay, you don't. Majority of the public would be willing to pay. However I agree with no fees for children under 18 years of age. Unfortunately everything has a cost today and the national museums are included.

jimsz
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posted 11-14-2010 12:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think the museums should remain free for everyone. Cut spending else where in their budget or the budget overall.

capoetc
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posted 11-15-2010 07:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by jimsz:
I think the museums should remain free for everyone. Cut spending else where in their budget or the budget overall.

What programs in the existing budget would you cut?

And to take the question a step further, once you identify those programs, ask yourself who will be waiting in the wings to protest said cuts, and what will their argument be against those cuts?

For the record, I'm not suggesting that you are wrong. I'm just saying that every single spending program has consituents who ardently support it and voters who make decisions at least partly based upon promises of continued funding.

moorouge
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posted 11-15-2010 08:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by capoetc:
I'm just saying that every single spending program has constituents who ardently support it...
Quite. Look at the outcry from cSers about the cancellation of Constellation!

kr4mula
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posted 11-15-2010 11:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hmm, since our tax dollars paid for much of the content and subsidize the operations, maybe we should just check IDs at the door and charge only foreign visitors. We can use a sliding scale depending on how friendly that country is to us.

But seriously, I don't see how charging to get in the Smithsonian museums is any different than charging to access one of our national parks. Those are upwards of $25 a car, or $12 a person. Those parks house national treasures of a very different sort and on the face of it, it seems odd to charge to get into the great outdoors, but operating such places costs a lot of money. There's some rationale for having us collectively support the maintenance of such national treasures, but it seems reasonable for those who actually use them to contribute a greater share.

mjanovec
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posted 11-15-2010 01:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Hart Sastrowardoyo:
Even though that's only $100 for every $10,000 of income, I suspect most people would be against it.
Of course they would be against it, because that would be a HUGE increase over what the museums are getting today.

Perhaps you meant to say 1% of a person's tax contributions... but even so, that would be more than NASA gets.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 11-15-2010 01:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Uh-uh. The one percent I was pulling out of thin air as an example, but my point was that people are loath to take part in any tax increase.

Few would argue against educating children, (though there are debates on what that education should consist of.) Yet, in New Jersey, 59 percent of school budgets were rejected in April; what hope is there for a new tax to support national museums, outside one's state?

gliderpilotuk
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posted 11-15-2010 02:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for gliderpilotuk   Click Here to Email gliderpilotuk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
We (in the UK) have been here before.

In the 1980s, national museums faced political pressure from the Conservative government to charge for admission, to make them less dependent on government funding. About half of the major national museums eventually introduced charges. Notably the British Museum and the National Gallery held out.

By 2001 charges had been rescinded - in exchange for substitute government funding, but whereas the free museums had flourished, the charging ones, like the V&A, saw numbers halve. In the year after charges were rescinded, the V&A's attendances rose over 100%.

The impact of charging is self-evident and counter-productive: lost souvenir sales; lost cafe sales etc. Museums need to get more creative with fund-raising: corporate sponsorship, corporate events, offsite sales outlets etc. The British Museum I believe raises 20% of its income from non-government sources.

Tykeanaut
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posted 11-15-2010 03:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tykeanaut   Click Here to Email Tykeanaut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I cannot recall ever paying an admission into a museum in the UK. But a museum could always ask for a donation if you wished to I suppose.

onesmallstep
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posted 11-15-2010 03:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for onesmallstep   Click Here to Email onesmallstep     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Why not charge admission only to selected, temporary exhibits and have only a 'Pay what you wish' policy at the door? Fees are already charged to Planetarium and IMAX shows at NASM, and to IMAX at the Museum of Natural History. I agree that admission should be free to school-age kids; god knows they have enough distractions in the form of iphones, ipods and video games, so why give them something inspirational that is free. In this era of recession and shrinking budgets, I would be amenable to something like what I suggested, or if it were a fixed-fee proposal, maybe with a 'Museum Pass' with admission to multiple sites over several days.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-15-2010 03:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think an issue being overlooked in this discussion is that the Smithsonian is, at its current budget levels, already having difficulty raising the funds it needs.

Take the National Air and Space Museum, for example: it has yet to raise the full funds needed to complete the Udvar-Hazy Center (which by Congressional mandate cannot use federal funds for construction) and has several galleries in the National Mall building that either have planned or are in need of renovations.

And that's to say nothing of special funding needs, such as the $28.8 million to add space shuttle Discovery to the National Collection.

As admission fees will -- by at least some percentage -- decrease attendance, and similarly, decrease individual donations (they already made their contribution by paying to get in), raising the needed funds for projects that already are above and beyond their current budget will become that much more difficult...

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