Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art has eliminated entrance fees in an effort to increase visitor accessibility. As the museum announced Saturday, the move will be funded by a $10 million donation from Carolyn Powers, president of the MOCA Board of Trustees, and is set to be implemented “as soon as possible.”
“We are not aiming at having more visitors or larger attendance, but we’re aiming at being more accessible, at having open doors,” MOCA Director Klaus Biesenbach tells the Los Angeles Times’ Deborah Vankin. “As a civic institution, we should be like a library, where you can just walk in.” (Biesenbach, who joined the Los Angeles museum in 2018 after more than 20 years at New York’s MoMA PS1, previously spearheaded an initiative aimed at providing free entry to the MoMA satellite museum for residents of all five of New York City’s boroughs.)
“I think many of us are at a point where we understand that museums should not be ivory towers,” Biesenbach adds in an interview with The New York Times’ Jori Finkel.
Currently, MOCA’s general admission fees range from $8 to $15. Admission is free on Thursdays between 5 and 8 p.m.
Interestingly, admission accounts for just a small portion of MOCA’s revenue. According to Vankin, visitor fees amounted to $1.3 million, or less than seven percent of the museum’s annual budget, for fiscal year 2018. Although Powers’ gift will only cover five years or so of free admission, a museum representative told Vankin that MOCA has “every intention [of making this] a permanent change.” In a statement to Hyperallergic’s Hakim Bishara, the museum further writes that the funds will provide enough time to “create new fiscal strategies and develop revenue streams” capable of supporting long-term free admission.
The move puts MOCA in the company of other Los Angeles institutions that don't charge entrance fees. Mike Roe of LAist highlights five that are already free to visitors: Among others, the list includes the Broad, a contemporary art museum located across the street from MOCA (opened in 2015, the Broad has consistently attracted more than 750,000 visitors every year), and the University of California at Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum, which shifted to a free admission model in 2014 and has since experienced a 25 percent bump in visitor numbers. Last year, the Hammer welcomed 251,943 individuals—just 30,000 fewer than MOCA, which drew in 284,160 visitors over the same time period.
As Vankin points out, one of the main outliers in the area is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA. In late 2017, LACMA raised its admission fees to between $16 and $25, marking a stark contrast with the growing number of fee-free local museums.
Powers’ donation will not only fund free general admission to MOCA (special exhibitions will still cost money), but also help the museum expand its educational programs and visitor services staff.
It remains unclear when exactly the shift will be implemented, but given the additional security required for the anticipated influx of visitors, as well as other infrastructure-related issues, it may be months before the change takes effect.
“This is not a badge for me,” Powers says in a press release statement. “Rather, it’s a way for me to support the museum and be of service to the Los Angeles community.”