MuseumMinute

The Cost of Memory: The 9/11 Museum Admission Debate

"In Memoriam: A Memorial Exhibition." Rendering by Squared Design Lab (http://squareddesignlab.com/) via The National September 11 Memorial and Museum (http://www.911memorial.org/museum)

“In Memoriam: A Memorial Exhibition.” Rendering by Squared Design Lab (http://squareddesignlab.com/) via The National September 11 Memorial and Museum (http://www.911memorial.org/museum)

Last week officials at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum announced that admission to the museum will cost between $20-$25 when it opens in 2014. The memorial plaza, which opened in 2011, will continue to be free (there is a $2 service fee for online ticket reservations). Not surprisingly, this announcement has turned out to be controversial to say the least. Some common reactions I’ve seen online include a few standard themes:

  • “It’s not a business – it’s a memorial”
  • The admission fee is “disrespectful” or “too much”
  • The admission should be a “suggested donation”

There are also numerous comments regarding why there should be no museum at all, however, in this post I want to focus on cost.

So, should the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum be free?

No.

  • It is not free to operate a museum – especially a museum with a need (and a plan) for heightened security, like this one. The museum will have a significant “cost recovery” period (planning/development, consultants, design, construction, etc.), not to mention the cost of general day-to-day operations (staff, utilities, security). And while the tragedy it commemorates is a public one, the museum itself is a not-for-profit endeavor, without a major endowment (yet) or other source of regular operational funds to keep it afloat; fundraising, grants, AND admission costs are necessary.
  • Museum officials have stated that the museum will be free during certain hours every week and will offer student and senior discounts. There will be opportunities for those who cannot afford the admission price to visit the museum.
  • New York City is home to a lot of museums – both public and private – with a variety of admission price structures; some are free, some suggest an amount, and some, yes, charge $20+. The announced admission price is not unheard of. Given the location, the subject matter and the cost to create (and don’t forget operate) the museum, $20 – $25 seems fair.
  • There is significant precedent. There is a charge to tour the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and the Historic Sites at Pearl Harbor (admission to World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is free) – both sites of tragedy, mourning, and reflection.

USA Today quoted Joseph Daniels, President of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, saying, “We decided that it’s more fiscally prudent to have a straight ticket charge.” Yes. Museums need to be fiscally prudent. Funding is competitive and some of the most respected museums in the U.S. are facing significant cuts (the Field Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Baltimore Museum of Art – just to name a few). While it could be argued that the annual budget projections may not be fiscally prudent – an estimated $60 million/year to operate the museum – the costs are real and the admission price is necessary to assist in covering those costs.

For those arguing on behalf of the families affected by 9/11 and the terror attack in 1993, I might suggest (I’m sure I’m not the first or only) that the museum consider gifting lifetime memberships to the immediate families of the victims, survivors, and responders. It is their experiences, their stories, their loss, their triumphs, and their lives that will be reflected, remembered, and honored in the exhibition halls of the museum for generations to come.

At the end of the day, I believe people will visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and will pay admission, regardless of the price – to mourn, to remember, and to pay their respects the thousands who lost their lives, while reflecting on an event that changed our nation forever.

I agree with Daniels when he says, “This [the museum] is something that is going to be important and is going to be worth the expenditure.” I also believe that it is going to be worth the cost of admission, even if that cost is $25/person.  Do you?

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60 thoughts on “The Cost of Memory: The 9/11 Museum Admission Debate

  1. Pingback: What Happened in Museums This Week? May 4 – 10 | Museum Minute

  2. I have been surprised by the outcry over the admission price, especially among the museum community. My museum charges $14/ticket and we are not in a major metropolitan area like NYC, but no one has ever accused us of being exclusionary or not worth the price of admission. The admission price for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum does not seem out of line to me, especially given the opportunities for free and reduced admission. Kudos for a well-reasoned post.

  3. The 9/11 Museum should definitely not be free. In my own discussions about this, what I have learned that people do not understand what it means when a museum is “free.” They tend to forget the old saying that, “there is no such thing as a free lunch,” and museums are no different. No museum is free; someone is footing the bill whether that is government, a sizable endowment, or other major funding.

    Let us consider the admission prices for other museums in the Big Apple (All prices for 1 adult):

    New York Hall of Science (NYSci)-$11
    The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)-$19
    Solomon Guggenheim Museum-$22
    Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum-$24
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)-$25
    The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)-$25
    Discovery Times Square-$19.50-$25 (And they ONLY do special exhibitions!)

    Illustrating that a $20-$25 ticket is not far and above the market rate in New York City.

    Now, I know what you’re going to say: “Marcus, you are not thinking about the families of those that died in the worst terrorist attack in the history of the U.S.” Well, considering they will all get in free anyway, that argument is void. Or: “But think of the families that can not afford to bring four people and spend close to $100 on just museum admission.” Could be true, but first, the 9/11 museum plans weekly free hours that those families should take advantage of. Second, I’ve worked in museums for almost 8 years, and I know very few people ever pay full MSRP. There are always discounts, coupons, check-in deals, etc. to take the sting out of the price. Finally, I’ve not heard of anyone complaining that the Met or MoMA or AMNH charge too much.

    I believe that $25 is a fair and just admission price, and implore the powers that be to let it stand, because if we do not pay for it when we visit, we will surely pay for it some other way.

  4. I agree with you that museums don’t run on there own and need to charge. One thing that the San Diego Museum of Art does it has free days for San Diego residents. Perhaps other museums could do that as well?

  5. While it seems counter-intuitive to pay money to remember, the money is really an investment in maintaining something that will respect and help future generations to remember. Seems like a good investment to me.

  6. I’m undecided. It seems wrong for anyone to make money off the faces of victims, but if it is totally not for profit, then perhaps it is okay. Very thought provoking blog. Is it government funded? If it receives tax-payer funds, I think price is too high. Looking fwd to reading other comments. Still, would I go if in NYC? Yes. Even at $25 per person.

  7. How much do we pay per year to play candy crush just once on a cell phone? How much does it cost to swing through a drive thru after hours? How much are movies now?

    I’m not trying to be mean, but it seems petty to dispose of cash so easily on crap then act like these memories should be disposable. History is what saves us from ourselves, and it is always, nationwide, worth sacrificing a few lattes.

    I don’t think we can ignore the work that went into, and will continue to operate something that honestly, no one HAD to build. We could have just said, “Who cares?” and let BP build another Gas Station there.

    I will likely never ever get to this museum because it is so far away, but I can’t see worrying about the price of admission if I do (the cost of parking in NYC is a far bigger concern). I’d easily drop the $22 bucks for the Guggenheim to remember people none of us alive have ever met, who aren’t even from here, and who drank themselves to death…on purpose.

    It sounds like the 9/11 museum/memorial is a record of people who gave and lost lives without consent. This is someone’s tragedy we’re paying to look at. There should always be a price for that.

    I’d happily pay to help preserve what other people need to feel, and especially what they need to learn. We need our children to see this moment if for no other reason than to never repeat it.

    Thank you for this article. It was very informative, and well-argued. I like your ideas as compromise.

    • “I’d easily drop the $22 bucks for the Guggenheim to remember people none of us alive have ever met, who aren’t even from here, and who drank themselves to death…on purpose.”

      Who knew that the Guggenheim only exhibited works by dead alcoholics?

  8. I think that the museum should keep that ticket price for at least a couple years. This way they can generate all the expenditure to construct the museum. After that they can either reduce the price so they will be making enough just for the overall day-to-day costs, or they can keep the price the same and donate all the extra revenue that they make to the families of 9/11 victims.

    http://utruthkn.wordpress.com/

  9. No one goes into the museum business with moneybags in their eyes… If $25 is the cost needed to cover operating expenses, pay the $25 damn dollars and stop complaining. At least you have the option.

  10. Out of respect for the memory of the dead and wounded, it should be free. And… who’s going to pay for the immense expenses involved in building and running it? If a private endowment can be found, great – but in the meantime, expenses must be recouped. I only hope that the profit earned by the enterprise is not so obscene as to tarnish the memories they are trying to preserve. Thanks for an insightful post, which I have shared.

  11. I agree that it can not be Free, but $25 is a bit pricy. It isn’t as though they will have to do a lot of advertising and since it is a museum for the events of one day in history I can’t imagine that they will need a huge fund for building their collection. All that said, keep it at $20-$25, but make admission free on 9/11. That gives meaning and a chance for those who can’t afford it.

    • That’s a great idea, Shawn! I wonder if there are plans for the museum to have an annual “free day” on 9/11.

  12. Of course there should be a memorial there, whether a museum or not, thats debatable. At the end of the day, its costly to run, so you should pay, but a more transparent look at the costs should be released so people can see if the fee is profit making or covering the costs alone.

  13. The Virginia Museum of Fine Art is free to get in except special exhibits, and some of those are free for members. I’m an artist who likes to draw there but if I had to pay I’d never go. Parking is free for members and cheap for non members. We had some museums go under in VA from lack of support , but they are depressing subject matter. The VMFA has rich generous contributors. I’d like to go back to NY. because I always have a great time there but I’ll skip that depressing memory museum. Do you see this museum surviving for long or is it a mistake like our slavery and holocaust museums ?

    • I am curious about the idea of our slavery and Holocaust museums being a mistake. Could you elaborate on that? Thanks!

      • ok I don’t know who paid for those museums, but does anyone go ? Maybe school groups who don’t have a choice. Sometimes I see on the news the one in Fredericksburg is going bankrupt. Also the one in Richmond needs funds. I’m not going out to those depressing places, so I only half pay attention to what they say. The city should give us some free parking. That would be a better use of the land. I think we blame bad decisions on city council around here. I’m not an expert . What do you think ?

      • Hi, Chris. Both of your comments came through. Thanks for participating in the conversation. “Depressing subject matter”, or difficult histories, are indeed, inherently challenging. However, the examples you cite above, Holocaust and slavery museums, represent histories that, not unlike the 9/11 museum, are not all that far removed from our lives today. The repercussions of slavery can still be felt in communities throughout the country and there continues to be a large Holocaust survivor community (and their descendants) in the U.S. I find that difficult history institutions have missions that go beyond preserving the story and collections (which, in-and-of-themselves, are extremely important and necessary functions). These institutions serve to educate the public, not only about the atrocities of the past, but also to demonstrate courage, what it means to be an upstander, and to help foster an environment and community where we make sure we can recognize and speak out against similar atrocities when we see them happening around us. Which speaks to another important function that these institutions serve: they offer opportunities to discuss contemporary issues by connecting the past to the present. Genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur; human trafficking/contemporary slavery around the world, including a very real and active network where I live in the Midwest. These institutions are safe spaces for community dialogue about very real, frightening contemporary issues. While there will always be competition with zoos, aquariums, art museums and science centers for attendance and dollars, these institutions have an important place in the cultural heritage universe and serve a very real audience that grows as awareness grows. They stand for something. They stand for remembrance and action. They stand for a better tomorrow. And while it can be argued that these kinds of institutions aren’t “for everyone”, I believe there is a stronger argument that these institutions offer opportunities and enrichment that is available for those who want to engage. Your disinterest in depressing subject matter aside, these museums offer enriching experiences that visitors who take the “risk” to visit often keep with them long after they leave. So, to answer your question, yes; for these reasons and many others, I suspect the 9/11 museum will be around for a very long time.

  14. Why not set of a percentage of proceeds from the museum to go to a fund to help the orphans, widows, and other victims of 9-11?. If we don’t, I really would be embarrased to even be included with the rest of the talking heads that have the audacity to debate how this museum should come into being. If these families and victims arent included in the project directly somehow, I don’t see how it wouldn’t be profiting off someone elses misery.

  15. To justify the cost of $25 by pointing to the other high costs of New York City museums seems specious to me.

    I live in the area and rarely visit the museums because the admission costs are so high. Several of them have free or reduced-admission days or evenings, which helps. But given the extraordinary wealth of those sitting on the museum boards and donating their collections, charging $25 per person is a lot of money for many people — for anyone working a low-wage job (millions of Americans and many in the tristate area) — this is two to three hours’ of their labor. Worth it? I wonder.

  16. Well done on the post, very well written and useful. Living in the UK where the entrance to museums is for the most part free of charge, I think it is one of the best ideas as regards the culture of a place. There are fewer and fewer people interested in what happened in the past as it is, charging for museums is a step in the wrong direction I think. How much would for example a family of four need, to spend a day at this museum, including eating, transportation etc? On a related matter, the nature of the museum and the framing of the relevant issues should be dealt with very carefully too.

  17. Pingback: Freshly Riffed 36: But I See By The Look On Her Face, If I Keep My Mouth Shut, I’ll Save Some Time | A VERY STRANGE PLACE

  18. Hmm, what a surprise for me. I think that the cost for entering the museum are so high for me.. haha.. in my country museums are so low cost to enter it. Maybe the different are in the service for the guest ?

  19. Thanks to everyone for your comments! I really appreciate you taking the time to read this post and participating in the discussion. Several great questions have been raised and arguments have been made – making this a great debate.

  20. Having visited a lot of museums in the DC area, many of which are free, I can only trust that the museums that charge, charge the amount they need to operate (with the exception of the few for-profit museums out there). I have observed, at least in this area, that the amount charged doesn’t necessarily correspond to the size of the museum or the amenities offered or the quality of the visitor experience. (There are some huge free museums and some small museums that have admission fees, and these fees vary from museum to museum as well.) I figure (maybe naively) that what I am paying for has less to do with the value to me of what I am getting and more to do with the costs that go into what I am getting, and whether these costs are offset by government funding, grants, etc.

    That said, I do think it’s interesting that the visitor is basically paying for an unpleasant experience (as opposed to something that would be considered more enjoyable, like a beautiful arboretum or a science museum with lots of fun interactives). Does anyone think that makes a difference? People go to the Holocaust Museum not because it’s fun but because they want to learn and bear witness and pay respects, and for this reason, it’s always made intuitive sense to me that admission is free. But in reality, the free admission to the Holocaust Museum probably has a lot more to do with dedicated funding sources than with depressing subject matter.

  21. If this new museum were not to charge admission, where would the costs of operation & maintenance be covered? Voluntary donations would not begin to meet these expenses. Unless or until a corporate benefactor(s) steps forward, an admission charge is both fair and necessary.

  22. Well, admissions are rather necessary, no? If the costs of the museum were not covered by admissions, the money would have to come from somewhere, right? Due to the nature of this particular museum, I predict that much would come from the government.
    I’m not against the ticket price at all. I think the ticket price should remain where it is.
    I don’t think that it is a ploy to exploit the people. Something has to pay the bills.
    Good article!

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