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Blogback: John Ravenal, deCordova Director, Defends Higher Museum Fees for Out-of-Towners

John Ravenal, executive director of the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA, which offers free admission to Lincoln residents, takes issue with Out-of-Towner Downer: Metropolitan Museum Considers a Xenophobic Admission Policy.

John Ravenal with Edvard Munch’s “Between the Clock and the Bed” at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ Johns/Munch show, which he curated
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Your comments on the Met’s possible change in admission policy seemed shortsighted to me (and the metaphor of “xenophobia” strikes me as unhelpful at best).

Here are two other US museums whose admission policies privilege their local constituents—deCordova (free to Lincoln, MA, residents) and Harvard Art Museums (free to Cambridge residents, as well as to Harvard students, faculty and staff; also free on Saturday mornings to Massachusetts residents). I’m sure there are more. In addition, there’s a logic to the Metropolitan Museum’s charging non-NYC visitors: They’re not already paying city taxes that go to support the museum’s upkeep.

Your story about circumventing the Russian museum’s admission policy perfectly illustrates the problem—visitors don’t seem to get how much their support matters to a museum’s operation. You can’t really have it both ways—healthy, well-functioning museums that manage without visitor support.

In partial defense of my family’s shortchanging the Russians, I should note that we didn’t misrepresent ourselves to get the Russian rate, but were granted it when our son deployed his rudimentary high-school Russian at the ticket counter. Part of our reason for being there (after he had to forego his class trip because of a major family event) was to give him a chance to apply his knowledge. The discount was an object lesson in the usefulness of learning foreign languages.

Speaking of travel, those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I just returned from a very scary United Airlines flight from San Francisco, during which (judging from the passengers’ screams) the turbulence was so severe that we thought this could well be our last voyage. Aside from an announcement that we should return to our seats for our descent to Newark (some descent!), there was not a word about this roller-coaster ride from the cockpit, before, during or after. Always seeking visual solace, I tried focusing on United’s scenic “relaxation” video of Hawaii (one of our own more calming trips), while stopping the circulation in my husband’s arm.

an ArtsJournal blog