Is the MFAH Too Damn Expensive?

Categories: Museums

MFAH.jpg
Add a special exhibition or two and admission to the MFAH costs more than The Louvre and MoMA.
Paris, France-based artist and writer Payam Sharifi was recently back in his hometown Houston when he decided to pay a visit to his hometown museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Often cited as one of the largest and most prestigious art institutions in the country, the MFAH is a big deal to Sharifi, a co-founder of the art collective Slavs and Tatars. In 1995, the Iranian-American artist, whose work is part of the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art, scored his first job in art as an intern for Anne Tucker in the MFAH's photography department.

Recently, when Sharifi arrived at one of the museum's special exhibitions, he paid $18, a typical fee for one of MFAH's ticketed shows. When he wanted to see another temporary exhibit, he was asked to fork over an additional $18.

"I said, 'Are you serious? You don't offer a combo ticket?' They said 'no' and I had to pay $36, more than the equivalent at the Louvre, MoMA or any other museum that I can recall," says Sharifi.

The Louvre's combination ticket, which includes access to permanent collections and temporary exhibits, costs approximately $20. MoMA's $25 price tag, instituted in September 2011, includes admission to special exhibitions, audio programs, films and gallery talks.

Unless it's a Thursday when the MFAH waives its general admission fee, the museum, under the leadership of Gary Tinterow since 2012, charges up to $13, which gains entry into the space but not to the special exhibitions.

In addition to a November 2012 fund-raiser that brought in $1.58 million, the museum's endowment has reached approximately $1 billion.

"The past decade has seen museums move toward making their collections and exhibitions more accessible to the general public," says Sharifi. "It seems the MFAH, however, is pursuing the opposite strategy, pricing out most of the public from its admirable collection if not so ambitious programming, save [for] those with disposable income to spend on culture."

In Sharifi's opinion, an MFAH-like institution that's getting it right is the Dallas Museum of Art, which ditched the $10 admission fee to its general collection on January 21. DMA, unlike the MFAH, is partially funded through the City of Dallas's Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Mary Haus, MFAH's Director of Marketing and Communications, explains that the museum's special-exhibit pricing is made on an exhibition-by-exhibition basis. She adds that private institutions like the MFAH, the sixth-largest museum in the country, aren't able to rely on city or government funding.

"Private museums without city, county or state support, including the MFAH, typically charge admission fees for large-scale exhibitions that carry significant expenses such as shipping, crating, insurance, interpretive materials, etc.," says Haus about exhibits such as "Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado" (which costs $18 for adults) and the upcoming "Picasso Black and White" (which will set grown-ups back $20).

Adds Haus, "I think it's fair to say that we're even below competitive rates with our peers in other major metropolitan areas."

Sharifi disagrees, pointing to the fact that MoMA's admission fee, though pricey, allows an art-goer to wander wherever he or she pleases.

"Ideally, the MFAH should follow suit and offer the same [as the Dallas Museum of Art], especially given its impressive endowment. Failing that, it should at least offer a single all-inclusive ticket at an affordable price, below the $25 benchmark established by the MoMA a couple years ago," says Sharifi.

Haus acknowledges that MFAH follows a model that has been in place for a long time and that it could be reconsidered. However, it looks as if the museum is going to keep doing what it has been doing.

"It's only natural that some institutions are taking a look at [changing business models]," says Haus. "It's kind of a constant conversation, and I think it's one that's being had all over the country in terms of what's the most viable model to advance the mission, sustain the institution and provide the best experience possible for our visitors, whether they be guests or members."

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Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston

1001 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX

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21 comments
kevp99
kevp99

Houstonians are just too damn cheap.

denise
denise

Membership is cheap, though, and the free family programs bring us there almost every month. We also get free and discounted entries to the various special exhibitions. 

Should the MFAH look at their pricing? Perhaps. But also need to keep in mind that a significant part of that endowment is going to the new building breaking ground.


breenie
breenie

It costs the more than the Vatican?? Best art collection in the world. Umm.no Houston

anray2020
anray2020

It's not an inviting place to visit anyway. Houston has art all over the city that is fun and welcoming. 

David McClain
David McClain

If you think the MFAH is too expensive, become a member. It's actually stupid cheap.

Tiffany Anderson
Tiffany Anderson

I like the meal deal they had. Lunch from food truck= free entry to museum. And free Thursdays too!

Iris Leon-Knutson
Iris Leon-Knutson

They have free Thursdays so the answer is "no". Houston Press would do well to be more careful of what establishments they choose to criticize. Look at what's happened to Washinton street since they decided to accuse business owner's in the area of racial profiling. Irresponsible reporting in my opinion.

Rebecca Bryant
Rebecca Bryant

Travel is expensive but plan a vacation to DC...world class museums ....FREE!

Adam Roberts
Adam Roberts

the natural science museum is expensive.

Jeff Gilmer
Jeff Gilmer

I agree my membership pays for itself after just 1 or 2 special exhibits. Like Sam said a lot of the special touring exhibits like King Tut are probably set by the exhibit not the mfah. I think if you're just touring the permanent exhibits it's very affordable to see some of the best art in the country.

Wayward Shepherd
Wayward Shepherd

Yes. Several times, but I also know that at times the museum doesn't set the price. However if more people went to the museums around Houston more often, then the admission would be cheaper.

Lauren Paul
Lauren Paul

The price has usually stopped me from attending. HMNS too.

David Losoya
David Losoya

It is pretty outrageous at times. The museum of natural science is the same. He'll even for a weekday it cost quite a bit to take a family let alone my wife. I wish we could see lower pricing. Imagine the amount of people we could inspire and imaginations ignite if they could only submerge themselves without paying a arm and a leg.

Melia Hughes
Melia Hughes

Get a membership. It's way more economical that way! I get my money's worth out of my Patron membership every year, several times over in some cases.

Beverly Lynn
Beverly Lynn

takes alot of money to get fine exhibits i would think

Brooke Alyson
Brooke Alyson

Absolutely. Many times we don't get to go because it's simply too expensive.

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