Major museums to scrap entrance fees

The Swedish Department of Culture produced next year's budget this week, and there were few surprises. As expected, more money was promised for children's culture and stage artists' pensions, and around 98 million crowns will allow a number of state-financed museums to do away with entrance fees.

The chosen museums are state-financed and have a national mandate. They include Moderna Museet, Nationalmuseum, and Naturhistoriska riksmuseet. The extra money will make up for the lost entrance fees, as well as providing for extra security, toilets, cleaning, and improved outreach and educational programs.

Moderna Museet reopened in February this year with free entrance, and they have seen their visitor numbers more than double; their number of first-time visitors doubled as well. After Moderna Museet’s successful experiment, most museum directors were pleased by news of the culture department’s initiative.

Not everyone was so excited. Riksmuseet’s Christina Hallman was concerned that the goal would be to push as many people as possible through the museum, and that too many of them would be children who mostly saw legs and feet.

Members of the Folk Party think that the reform is all wrong and should simply be scrapped, and an editorial in Aftonbladet this week can be summed up in its headline: “Free entry – who is it good for?”

While Moderna Museet’s experiment showed that free entry can in fact raise visitor numbers and seduce first-time visitors, their data also showed that most of the people who were coming were just like the people who’d already been visiting the museum – but slightly less well educated.

The great hope that new audiences would be drawn in played out very much like the recent move to cut the sales tax on books. In that case, those who had already been reading and buying books bought a few more, but no new readers were drawn into the fold.

Moderna Museet director Lars Nittve argued that a goal of attracting new groups of visitors should not be handed down as a political decree, but should be a question each museum faces on their own. For his part, he admitted that “we need to be better at showing art other than that which speaks to the white, middle-aged, middle class; we need to exhibit artistic experiences that unorthodox museum visitors can share.”

So it appears that Moderna Museet has a plan – and they’re also grateful for the expanded toilet facilities.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet