Blog-post response: Art and Accessibility

In her piece on the Audain Art Museum, Casey wrote of the privilege she experienced in seeing the art there with a private tour by their chief curator, and the comment gave me pause because I’ve felt this twinge of privilege closely as well, both then and in my personal life: I’m currently writing this sitting in a little garret in Paris, having seen both Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre in recent days.  Last summer I used all my family’s travel money to fly to Madrid on a whim with my sister to see a temporary art exhibit there, and I’ve even flown to Los Angeles and Boston for weekends just to see art. What an absurdly advantageous position I’m in that I’ve had the budget, the supportive family, and the time to do those things! I wish everyone could experience this same accessibility to art. When Casey asked “why does the value of art seem to be intrinsically tied to this inaccessibility, rarity, and exotic nature?”, I thought of museums I’ve seen in recent years and how readily many museums offer discounted or free days for those of less means to make art more accessible, not less.

The Prada museum in Madrid, considered one of the top ten museums in the world, is open to visitors for free four hours each day.   The Reina Sofia and Thyssen museums, also in Madrid, give free access to kids under eighteen years old, students, teachers, and people who are out of work– and have evenings or certain days of the week free.  The Louvre and Musee d’Orsay here in Paris are not as deeply discounted but still offer free access to kids under eighteen and one free day a week or month.  London’s big museums are almost all free, all the time, so anyone can walk in during their lunch break and see a favourite painting for ten minutes a day if they live or work nearby. Lest you think only European cities care about public space and culture, the Met in New York City also offers many opportunities to take advantage of price reductions for special circumstances too. Perhaps the Audain Art Museum, at eighteen dollars per entry (on par with or more expensive than many of the museums mentioned here) would garner some gratitude if they offered parts of each day free or at a reduced cost? Or allow First Nations student visitors free access?  Even the Audain changing their age limit on free access for kids to eighteen from sixteen (it’s current policy) would seem appropriate if it wants to be grouped with the world class museums I’ve mentioned here (despite its smaller size).

Museums always point out the need to maintain their beautiful buildings and that restoration and security cost money, which is why there is a cost. Like the Audain collection, many art museums around the world began as collections within one wealthy family (the Borghese and Pamphili galleries in Rome are examples that come to mind). In my experience these kinds of smaller family collections are often the kind that do not offer discounted rates or times, and although I may sometimes struggle with the reasoning behind those choices I’m still glad to have the option to pay a fee to see their art rather than have it locked away and completely inaccessible to the public.

It would seem many large museums are trying to keep art valuable and exotic– they host large scale exhibitions with paintings from around the world and bring in experts for special lectures, while maintaining social media accounts in an effort to reach out to the public to remain relevant. Their reduced entry fees appear to be part of that same effort. After all, if enjoying art is to be so expensive that it ceases to be an enjoyable experience for many, surely the value of it will diminish?

– Cathy Collis (typed with one finger on my tiny iPhone in Paris)



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