Walters raises fee while giving free hour

February 21, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Following a trend to help cope with higher costs and falling sources of income, the Walters Art Gallery will raise its admission fees from $3 to $4 for adults and from $2 to $3 for senior citizens on March 1. The current free admission for everyone on Wednesdays will be eliminated and replaced by free admission on Saturday mornings between 11 and noon.

The gallery's announcement of the changes said that free Saturday morning admission would allow "working people . . . regular free access to the Walters."

There will still be free admission for members, those under 19 and full-time students.

The Baltimore Museum of Art raised its charge from $3.50 to $4.50 Nov. 23. It charges $3.50 for senior citizens and students, $1.50 for those 4 to 18. Members and children up to 3 years old are admitted free, and there is free admission to everyone all day Thursdays.

Along with many other arts organizations, the Walters and the BMA have been hit with cutbacks recently from government funding sources, and expect deeper cuts in the coming fiscal year.

The Museum of Modern Art increased its adult fee from $6 to $7 in 1990, the Brooklyn Museum from $3 to $4 in 1990, the Philadelphia Museum from $5 to $6 last year, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from $5 to $6 in 1989. A healthy number of museums, including the Metropolitan, the Brooklyn, and the Phillips and Corcoran galleries in Washington, have a "suggested donation" rather than a set fee; if people feel they cannot afford the suggested admission, they may pay what they wish.

But admission prices account for a very low percentage of total revenues. The Walters has an operating budget of $6.9 million, and the $3 admission fee brings in about $100,000, said Walters director Robert P. Bergman yesterday. The increase to $4 is expected to raise another $25,000. The BMA's $3.50 admission fee brought in about $120,000. That amount goes directly to the city, from which the BMA gets about 40 percent of its $6.7 million operating budget.

It would seem that scaling back from a full free day to one hour on Saturday would also narrow the window of free access at the Walters. But Mr. Bergman yesterday insisted it was being done to improve free access to those who need it most.

The director said "very few" people come in between 11 and noon on Saturday mornings now, "50 to 100 people." But he said that "we felt that this benefit [of a free day] was not having its full effect because working people who need free admission can't come on the free day because they're working."

Mr. Bergman said the Wednesday free day attendance is about 20 percent higher than other weekdays, and that weekdays account for about 60 percent of total weekly attendance, weekends the other 40 percent. The Walters has annual attendance of about 250,000, or an average of about 5,000 a week.

The Walters "can't afford" to have free admission all day Saturday, Mr. Bergman added, but people who "target their entry time to Saturday morning" can remain as long as they want or leave and come back the same day without paying.

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