Last week the Chicago Tribune reported that the Museum of Science & Industry and the Chicago History Museum will raise their admission fees effective February 1, creating a confusing welter of numbers: teens will pay a nickel less at MSI but $3 more at the History Museum, but on alternate Tuesdays when the moon is blue the opposite will be the case, except for evenings on which a meteorite plunges toward the earth at which point everyone will be compelled to go to the Planetarium.
At a time when museum attendance is declining it seems like a mistake to make it more expensive. This commentary by Michael O'Hare (full disclosure: a co-blogger of the Nonprofiteer's at The Reality-Based Community) notes that the Art Institute of Chicago could sell the least valuable 1% of its collection--part of what's in storage and will never be shown--to other museums and reap enough money to endow free admission in perpetuity. Why doesn't it? Because the Association of Art Museums holds that it's a violation of museum ethics to sell artwork to support operating expenses. This rule arises from good intentions--it's designed to make sure museum trustees don't loot their collections because they're too lazy to raise money--but the Nonprofiteer hastens to remind everyone what the road to hell is paved with. As O'Hare points out, items in permanent storage are not benefiting the public as they could if they were sold to museums which would exhibit them or to private collectors who are likely to donate them back to museums eventually.
So let's stop hearing cries of poverty from museums and start hearing what they're willing to do, without jeopardizing their research functions, to make museums accessible to all.