In 2004, the rebuilt Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) opened to much fanfare, much praise and a $20 admission fee, which has since been happily paid by scores of unknowing tourists. Those in the know pay far less (or far less per visit) using a variety of discounts that can be found at most museums.
Almost every non-profit museum in the world offers free access one day (or part of one day) a week. And because there is no universal standard regarding which day to offer free, it is possible to visit one museum for free on Tuesday, another on Wednesday, and a third on Thursday, and so on. Be aware however that this is also the most well-known museum discount, so expect crowds and long lines, especially if there is a major exhibition. Our advice is to go as early as possible on a free day.
If you are a full-time student or over the age of sixty (sometime less), check to see if the museum offers any admission discount (including the days and times it is offered) as well as any other special programs that may be available.
Do you visit a particular museum at least three times a year? Then it is probably in your best interest to become a member by making a small (sometimes as little as $35 a year) donation to the museum. Besides supporting a vital institution and getting a tax deduction, you will soon find that membership has its privileges. The most important are free admission to the museum for one year plus information (newsletters and email) regarding upcoming events. Other privileges usually include a gift shop discount (which can be a god-send near the holidays), free (or discounted) audio guides and free (or discounted) admission to any concert or film programs the museum provides.
Members of the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston receive discounted admission to the museum concert series – the longest-running museum music program in the nation, held in the Gardner’s intimate and atmospheric Tapestry Room gallery. MoMA members receive free admission to the extensive film screenings held in the movie theaters located in the museum’s basement.
To address the needs of a wider (and younger) audience some museums have member-only family days (usually on Saturdays) or increasingly popular social mixers held on Friday nights.
At the higher levels ($100 and up) museum members are frequently granted special viewing hours as well as invitations to exhibition openings, educational programs and other special events. Several museums offer discounted memberships to students and seniors, while those in the larger cities offer special plans to anyone living 200+ miles away.
Reciprocal Museum Membership
Are you already a member of your hometown museum? If so, contact their membership office or check their website for reciprocal privileges at other museums across the country. Higher-level members of the Metropolitan Museum of Art can avoid paying admission to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Wadsworth Atheneum in New Haven and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There are some museums (such as the Newark Museum) where the reciprocal museum network is an important factor in maintaining a membership.
Reciprocal memberships are not limited to Art Institutions. If you belong to any type of non-profit museum (Health, Science, Natural History, Planetarium), or Botanical Garden, Aquarium or Zoo, you may already have reciprocal privileges that can save you serious dollars when you travel.
Other Type of Museum Discounts
Group Discounts – You do not have to be a member of a large recognized group to get a group discount. Many museums give them to any group of six people that call ahead and all arrive at the same time.
Organization Memberships – The two most common membership discounts are AAA and Public Television, but there are others such as the local Chamber of Commerce or a City Club. If you belong to any of these groups, obtain a recent copy of their brochure or check out their website for a list of available local discounts. AAA members should develop a habit of asking about discounts almost every time they spend money.
Employer – Larger companies often obtain local museum discounts for their employees, especially if the company is a donor themselves. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Just because you are not in the market for a $1,000,000 masterpiece (or even a $1,000 masterpiece) does not mean you shouldn’t visit art galleries or attend an art auction preview. Most of the walk-ins at any gallery do not buy anything, but the gallery would prefer any traffic to no traffic. In most cities, galleries hang out together in neighborhoods (New York – Chelsea, Chicago – River North) so look up a couple in newspapers and or on the web and then make an afternoon wandering from one to another. If you happen to like a particular gallery (or just have a nice conversation with the staff) then sign their guestbook or leave a card with your e-mail address. They may invite you to their next opening party.
As interest and value run hand-in-hand, art auction houses actively market their previews. Nothing raises the bids faster than a bunch of folks taking time out of their lives to admire something. The best way to find out about auction previews is to go to the website of the auction houses in your area (or where you plan to visit) and sign up for their email.
Union – Many unions (especially entertainment and arts related, but others as well) offer museum discounts to members.
Industry Related (AAM) – If you work or actively volunteer at any non-profit museum, check to see if they are a member of the American Association of Museums and can they assist you in obtaining an individual membership, which is good for both free admission and major discounts at museums across the country.
Coupons – Just like commercial business, many museums distribute discount coupons at local hotels, in magazines or in the popular Entertainment coupon book series.
Pay-What-You-Can Admission – New York museums built on city-owned land (including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum) may ask for a “Suggested Admission” but are required to accept whatever a person can pay. What should you do? Pay what you can! If you are broke, then only pay half or a third, but if you can afford full board, then pay it remembering that we want great institutions to remain accessible and affordable.
No admission – The world class Cleveland Museum of Art has never had an admission fee (except for special exhibitions) and recently other museums have also dropped the door tax, including the Baltimore Museum of Art and the nearby Walters Art Museum. They can get more people through the door and thus get more money from individual members and foundations. We hope this trend continues.