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Young Audiences: How To Get Them

SFMOMALast week, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art issued a press release stating that it had raised 89% of the goal of its capital campaign three years ahead of schedule and therefore was increasing the goal from $555 million to $610 million. I didn’t pay too much attention until I read the final line of the explanation:

The additional funds will enable SFMOMA to pursue three goals: to become a national leader in digital engagement; to pursue an expanded art commissioning program in the museum’s public spaces; and to increase accessibility to the museum, particularly for school-age children. As part of this new campaign goal, the museum also announced a $5 million challenge grant from an anonymous donor, with the aim of creating a $10 million endowed fund that would enable SFMOMA to offer free admission to all visitors ages 18 and under.

That is one way to get younger audiences, and it made me go look at other museum policies. My quick survey turned up these results:

At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney, you have to be less than 18 years old to get in free.

At MoMA in New York, people under 16 are admitted free.

At the Guggenheim, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Seattle Museum of Art, children 12 and under are admitted free.

At at MFA-Houston and the Denver Art Museum, kids 5 and under are admitted free.

And at MFA-Boston, it’s complicated: children 6 and under are always free; childen 7 to 17 are free after 3 p.m. on weekdays, and all day on weekends and public holidays.

I’m not one who believes that art museums should be free in all circumstances — if they are, great; if they can’t afford it, don’t do it. But I do think that museums who now charge for those between 5 and — what? — 17 might rethink their policies. Kudos to the anonymous donor in San Francisco for raising the issue and doing something about it. Maybe other donors out there will draw inspiration from her/his example.



  1. LACMA’s NexGen program actually gives those under 17 a free membership that admits an accompanying adult. The nation’s only, according to its website. It’s been there some 20 years…

  2. Chris Crosman says:

    Not sure if it’s still in place but many years ago the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine implemented a policy of free admission for children and youth age 17 and under (as well as all residents of Rockland). It definitely made an impact on family visits, especially tourists with children.

    An even more effective policy is endowing school visits by providing free transportation and any ancillary costs to schools for field trips. Again, the Farnsworth was able to do this with corporate sponsorship from MBNA (now Bank of America) and Crystal Bridges found a private donor (not Walton family) to endow such a program.

  3. Brett Hopkins says:

    Thanks Judith! Hit the nail on the head. Let us consider the revolutionary notion of allowing the children in for free. Surely we all deserve that much as a reward for our years of investment in this “high culture”. Educate the children well, give them free access at the right time, engage them now and we will have gained that qualified, discerning audience to cherish and protect our collective heritage unto the next generation. Not so difficult, really?

  4. In 2007 the Portland Art Museum endowed free access for children 17 and under, free schools tours, and quarterly free Museum days (Usually on Sunday). We also provide are free every 4th Friday evening (5 to 8 PM), but this is not endowed.

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