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Stealthily, The Barnes Foundation Hikes Admission Prices

Late last month, I finally got to the New Barnes Foundation in downtown Philadelphia. It’s always a pleasure to see those paintings, but I tend to agree with the commenters who’ve found the replication of the old hanging in the new building to be jarring. Kind of old wine in new bottles — doesn’t work for me. I tried to forget where I was and just focus on the pictures. But it felt more cramped than it did in Merion, possibly because there were many more people in the galleries.

Postman-vGWhich brings me to the news: The Barnes did not put out a press release on this, but as of May 1, it is raising prices. General admission, which used to be $18 for non-members, is jumping to $22. Seniors will pay $20 instead of $15. Students will pay $10, as before. That’s steep — almost on par with the Metropolitan Museum, where the $25 admission is suggested, and which is much, much bigger. Senior admission at the Met is $17. Students should pay $12.

I learned about this from a blog item on, which referred me to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week. It said:

Officials at the gallery on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway said that the …main motive was to relieve congestion during high-traffic periods and to increase use of the Barnes audio guide, which now carries injunctions about appropriate gallery behavior.

The audio guide is included in the new ticket price.

The gallery will also extend its free admission for the first Sunday of every month to cover the entire day, not just afternoons. Tickets are still required for those days.

Well, they could have limited the tickets sold, couldn’t they have? Not quite:

“We’re seeing many more people not familiar . . . with what is proper behavior,” said Derek Gillman, the Barnes’ president and chief executive. He added that the gallery wanted those additional visitors, but with new gallerygoers “we’re seeing more transgressions of people touching things and getting too close” to the art, he said.

The audio guide now cautions visitors against touching art and standing too close to paintings and sculptures.

Ouch. Having just been there, I know that it’s difficult to stay as far away from the paintings as recommended, as marked in the flooring — it seems to me to be much further than other museums enforce, and — given the number of people in the galleries — it’s hard to avoid stepping over the line in certain spots. While I was there, the guards were quite aggressive about enforcing the space restrictions.

Presumably this is a reason Barnes limited visitors to his galleries, and another reason for leaving this collection in Merion.

I do not know what the capacity is, but back in January, the Inquirer reported that the New Barnes was exceeding expectations: “…From its May 19 public opening through the end of 2012, the gallery drew 216,953 visitors, according to Barnes records, exceeding the preopening estimate of 200,000 for the period by 8.5 percent….”

That’s great. But if the real reason for raising prices is behavioral — about 40% of visitors had been paying $5 for the audioguide, which is now included in the admission — this could have been handled better. Too, it should have been disclosed in a press release, or on the website – which I could find, except that if you’re buying a ticket for April, you’re paying a lower price than if you’re going in May.

Photo Credit: The Postman, Vincent van Gogh, Courtesy of the Barnes



  1. Terese Prasnick says:

    So they keep student price the same and raise the price of Seniors by $5? That should bring a significant improvement to the museum behavior. Sounds more like they are following the current trend of cultural arts institutions to attract the young at expense of the old.

  2. Jeanne C. Fuchs says:

    I think the behavior of the Barnes Trustees themselves is what’s the problem here. Moving these treasures in the first place is the worst example, then charging an admission that necessarily includes the audio gadget – which never works properly for me and the comments of which are pedantic and excessive – a sad situation.

    • Well said. Those audio guides poison the experience of viewing art, which is private, deeply personal,
      and ought not be violated by greedy trustees. – L.T., Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

  3. Barb Gurth says:

    The inclusion of the audio gadget in the admission price is offensive to me. It assumes that every museum entrant “needs” the information placed therein, that the whole populace is part of the unwashed masses the Museum would, nevertheless, extract increased fees from. On the other hand, we all know that the social behavior of the masses has become disgusting, beyond impolite and inconsiderate, just downright illiterate and repugnant.

  4. Distressing news about the price hikes. And about that dumb rule regarding standing too close to the art—standing at a distance, in other words, that most art lovers routinely include in their viewing practice. Sure it’s important to prevent visitors from touching the art or pointing at it with fingers too close. But lines on the floor should be used (if at all) only for very special works on loan.

    Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

  5. Philip Lustig says:

    Willy Sutton was asked why he robbed banks. His answer: “That’s where the money is.”
    This is exactly why the co-conspirators: Rendell, Pew, Lenfest, Perelman and Annenbergs literally stole the Barnes. Rendell was blantant at the time, “Because it will make money for Philadelphia.”
    As you point out, “Stealthly, they upped the admission price to $22.” Stealing is what they know best. In a sense, visitors are a captive audience, so why not stick it to them. The “don’t touch the art,” is a bogus reason.
    When I went to the new Barnes, it was so crowded, they told us we had ONE HOUR to see the entire exhibit, and suddenly changed that to half hour. Incredibly absurd.
    Dr. Barnes wanted his art to be seen by the “common man.” What’s ‘common’ about a couple having to pay $44. The only thing ‘common’ here, are the Robber Barons. Rob the poor to enrich the rich!
    Philip Lustig

    • where the barnes collection had been, was not honoring barnes wishes for his collection to be seen by the common man. I am a common woman. I am not a socialite. And i would not want to bother the neighbors where it had been before. Barnes could not take it with him, so he tied it up in his will the only thing here is that wanted it to be seen by the common man. I just watched the documentary art of the steal. this is a huge soap opera. and the people fighting for the barnes foundation are like a bunch of people in a cult, too invested in something that borderlines idolatry. personal, for rich people to be fussing over art is a great relief. better they fuss over art than get their power hungry, manipulative minds involved in things that can hurt people. Point is, Barnes is dead, and there are living people who need to be considered. Thank God this collection is accessible to someone like me, and maybe i would get a disability discount. Anyways, there are people in consecration camps in North Korea suffering worse than anyone in that whole documentary, and those people want freedom and rights and life. We live in a spoiled country that won’t even got to war to free people oppressed and enslaved by their own government, spoiled brats crying spilled milk over art. I make art, it shouldn’t be fought over like that. Babies.

  6. Hmmm. I’d be curious about the demographic of The Dread Art Offenders. My guess would be that there would be danged few Seniors and a whole lotta Students. Why penalize the Seniors?

    And the claim that the rise in price is directly related to the need to hook visitors up to an audio device is specious. Unless they’ve got some Big Brother Subliminal Voodoo going on, I doubt that any listener is going to be influenced by cautionary content being piped into his/her ears.

    So, this leaves me with two conclusions about the real intent of price hikes: 1) They want fewer visitors 2) They want to keep/increase revenues. Many museums manage crowds effectively and with grace – the Barnes should learn from them.

    Oh, and let me be clear – Philistine that I am – when the content is good – I loves me some headphones!

  7. “Stealthily” is right. No press release and smoke and mirrors nonsense to cause confusion. If they want to motivate folks who are sensitive to price changes to come in the underutilized late afternoon, they could try lowering the price for tickets after 3 pm. Or, as you point out, they can reduce the number of slots for the earlier hours. The price increase is to raise revenue, which is not not appropriate to this institution. If they need more money, it shouldn’t be on the backs of the public. The Barnes Board has a unique mandate, often quoted conveniently by Board Chair Bernie Watson about serving “the plain people.” The Board needs to look inward and to their donors.

  8. Capt_Spaulding says:

    Went to the Barnes yesterday. Had never been there before. One cannot stand a reasonable distance away from any work in almost all rooms because they are so small to begin with. There is artwork on the passageways between rooms and I watched one tour group and waited for one in the group to actually lean up against a painting in the doorway. What’s a patron to do? Perhaps they need timed tickets on the hour to thin it out. Audio guides? Didn’t bother with them. Each room has booklets that point out what each work is, so if you are stuck on something, you can look it up quickly.

  9. Lance Aaron says:

    Increased fees will correlate into more elite (less diverse) visitors as well. Curious to know how board feels about that.

  10. I don’t think most people who visit Art Galleries make decisions based on cost – Especially not for a difference of $5. However, I do think high prices reduce the number of local people who like to visit regularly.

    For example, I live in London and we have the National Gallery here. It is free, and I go there around 4-5 times a year, spending some money in the expensive cafe, giftshop and also donating £1 or £2 each time. If they put a £10 entry fee, I would certainly visit once or twice a year. However, tourists which come from all over the world, would still pay the £10 and watch it when they are here.

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