Amid record visitation, Harvard Art Museums do away with entry fees

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Starting today (23 June), Harvard Art Museums is offering free admission for all visitors, joining the many university-affiliated museums in the US that have long provided such open access. The university’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus is home to the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger and Arthur M. Sackler museums, which together hold more than 255,000 objects from around the world dating from antiquity to the 21st century. The institution also comprises four research centres, including the Harvard Art Museums Archives and a centre focused on conservation and technical studies.

“Art is for everyone,” Lawrence S. Bacow, the university’s president, said in a statement. “This initiative ensures that every visitor to our campus will now have the opportunity to view and engage with the phenomenal collections in our care at the Harvard Art Museums.”

United under the singular title in 2014, after a major renovation, the three museums are housed in a Renzo Piano–designed building that has become a destination of its own. Historically, visiting the collections has been free for certain groups, including the university community, Cambridge residents and youth under 18. Tickets were otherwise $20 for adults, with those over 65 years charged $18. Expanding free admission to all will significantly expand access while encouraging visitation, which has seen “dramatic increases”, the institution says, in the past two years. The new policy is supported through an endowment built by Bacow, which includes a donation from the estate of David Rockefeller, a Harvard alumnus.

Harvard Art Museums’ recent growth in traffic resulted not only from the lifting of Covid-related restrictions but also its previous introductions of free admission on certain days, which brought many first-time visitors. According to the museum, visitation has been consistently increasing since the spring of 2022, at a monthly average of 20%, and reached its highest-ever monthly total in April.

“We are thrilled to implement this new comprehensive free admission policy, which will remain in place permanently,” Martha Tedeschi, the museums’ director, said. “Taking this step represents our deep commitment to serving all audiences, enhancing our mission of teaching and research, and becoming a center where discovery, exchange, inclusion, and learning can flourish for all.”

Admission to art museums at some—but not all—top tier US universities is likewise free to all. The Herbert F. Johnson Museum at Cornell University, the Princeton Art Museum, the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, the Hammer Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, among others, are free to all visitors all the time. Other important campus museums, such as the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas in Austin and the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), charge admission to most non-students.

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