Museum ticket prices: here's the real revolution we should implement

Changing museum ticket prices, but not changing pricing policies: here are some measures we should put in place for a real revolution.

The recent changes to the admission fee schedule for the Uffizi Gallery and adjoining museums, with prices differentiated for high and low season, have brought the very issue of ticket prices back to the center of the museum debate. Beyond the considerations that can be made around the adjustments that have affected Florence’s most visited museum (two thoughts on the fly: on the one hand, it will certainly not be three euros and fifty cents more that will stop the selfie craving of “hit-and-run” tourists; on the other hand, the introduction of an annual pass for a more participatory fruition, especially by those who visit Florence often, and the abolition of the “increased ticket per exhibition” formula are measures to be welcomed), there is one aspect to be made clear right away: in order to truly approach European standards, which at such junctures are often invoked to justify any possible approach, from the immobilism of those who believe that our museums are already comparable to their English, French and German counterparts, to the vague ambitions of those who would like to raise costs to bring them in line with those of foreign institutions (whose prices are on average higher than those in Italy: however, it hardly ever happens that the proponents of the increases relate the fees to the average cost of living in the countries taken as a model), it would be necessary, now more than ever, to analyze what policies European museums implement beyond mere ticket prices. To look at Europe not just for the face value of tickets, but for what lies behind the tickets, and to derive insights from this in order to improve the usability of our cultural venues, would already be a revolution, perhaps a small one, but nonetheless a real and powerful one.

La Tribuna degli Uffizi
The Uffizi Grandstand

Aware of the fact that total gratuitousness, even only for state museums, appears at the moment to be a highly improbable operation, since it would involve finding cover for 175 million euros gross per year, it remains open to the possibility of pursuing roads that in Europe are ordinary practice, while in Italy they take on the appearance of sporadic and infrequent attempts, when they are not even completely unknown to our museums. These are roads that, moreover, would not even be difficult to follow and that would really lead in the direction of encouraging enjoyment by residents, discouraging occasional attendance and, on the contrary, pushing the public to go to the museum more often, increasing participation, making museums living and open places, sites for the development of conscious and active citizenship, as well as, of course, welcoming institutions for tourists. Let us try to look at some of them, knowing full well that this is still a far from exhaustive list.

One could, meanwhile, start with the introduction of reductions for those who enter the museum in the last hours of opening: it happens, for example, in Paris, at the Musée d’Orsay, where the public entering from 4:30 p.m. onwards is entitled to a discounted ticket (the museum closes at 6 p.m., the ticket office at 5 p.m.). At the Louvre there is alsofree admission, from 6 p.m. on Fridays, for under-26s of all nationalities (while under-26s from the EU are always free). And, still on the subject of opening hours, it would be nice if all Italian museums provided at least one day a week, all year round, with evening opening hours: it is really frustrating to know that, in some cities (and this sense of frustration increases especially in summer), it is not possible to visit a museum after dinner, when there would be a good part of the public who would be glad to enjoy a museum after the sun goes down. This happens in a number of museums: at the aforementioned Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, Munich’s Pinakotheques, London’s National Gallery, Tate Modern and British Museum, Zurich’s Kunsthaus, Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, and Oslo’s National Gallery.

A further measure of great civility would be the introduction of reductions, if not free admission, for those who are unoccupied, upon presentation of appropriate documentation. It happens in a great many museums: at the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona, the Acropolis Museum in Athens (free admission), the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (reduced admission). Special tickets for families, consisting of a couple and one or more children or teenagers, could then be introduced to avoid too onerous disbursements: however, it must be said that, at least on this aspect, many Italian museums are proving to be particularly receptive.

Again: in order for the museum visit to be a true cultural experience, complete and integrated with the rest of the possibilities that the city has to offer, it would be possible to think of two additional measures. The first: extend the validity of the ticket to a period of at least two days, especially if the museum is large and therefore liable to be visited quietly and slowly. This happens, for example, at the Museu Frederic Marès in Barcelona, where the admission ticket, which, moreover, costs very little, is valid for six months from the date of issue. The second: provide conventions with other institutions in the city if one presents the museum’s admission ticket. Here, too, examples abound: to mention again one of the museums listed just now, with the Musée d’Orsay ticket one is entitled, in the eight days following the visit, to a reduction on admission to the Musée National Gustave Moreau, the Paris Opera, and the Musée National Jean-Jacques Henner.

So do we want more hospitable museums, museums as places where civic sense is developed, museums capable of transforming the occasional visitor into a knowledgeable frequenter, capable of privileging those who return at the expense of those who instead set foot there only to say “I’ve been there,” museums capable of fostering shrewd and intelligent tourism? Then think above all about the relationship between museum and city dwellers, and measures to encourage and grow this relationship. On some of those listed above many museums are already working, while others have probably never even been considered: the path is long and not without difficulties, but the results will surely repay the effort. For a museum that attracts locals who reside in the city where the institution is located will surely, without a shadow of a doubt, be a welcoming museum for tourists as well. The reverse reasoning, however, does not apply.

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