Why exorbitant “Suggested Donation” request at the entrance of “Free Admission” museums, and other cultural institutions are a problem.


“Critics slam Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new ‘suggested’ admission deal.”— NY Daily News 3/1/16

Let me say first of all I pity the citizens who would elect me to any political office; seeing that I have neither the skill set, nor the patience to put up with the requirements of that profession. But if in some fantasy scenario I was elected to public office, I would push for the major public and civic financial support for what we call in the education profession: Informal education-learning institutions: Libraries, Museums , Dance, Music, Art cultural centers. I believe that these institutions represent the best collective cultural expressions of any society.

Now having said that…

Growing up in the Brooklyn of the 1950’s, in what is now I hope an illegal a “cold water flat” apartment. A large part of my day-dreaming at P.S. 9 and JHS 294, consisted of wanting to grow up, go to college so that I could move into an apartment that had never-ending heat, and hot water! A common mistake made about people who are not financially well off, is that they also live impoverished family, spiritual and emotional lives; that they don’t have rich expressions of love, hope, dreams and in this particular case, pride. Or even worse, that they don’t have creative and artistic interest. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have found that most people I have met in the world, all want both “Bread and Roses”. But poverty carries both scars and medals; and one of those medals is the desire to realize the full expression of ones humanity. To be given a fair opportunity, and not a condescending dismissal.

As a young adolescent growing up in Brooklyn I spent a great deal of my time at the Brooklyn Public Library, The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, The Brooklyn Zoo and Prospect Park. In part because of the Caribbean emigration experience of my family, meant that every adult in the house was working very hard and long hours; and so I had to take myself to those institutions. They represented places that to me had a true free and welcoming admission policy. Most people rightfully interpret (and that’s the institution’s intention) that “A suggested donation”, is a suggestion in name only. And feel that anyone daring to enter a museum without paying the “suggested amount”, was behaving like a “freeloader”, “moocher”, “poor”, or even worse, a thief. Somehow it seems that in 2016 we should be able to balance the financial needs of these important cultural institutions, with our need to see that all of our children can receive a rich learning legacy; especially those who are in the most fertile and fragile stages of the developmental learning process; some of whom may need to visit these venues without a parent, to do a school assignment.

As a life-long professional educator, I want to see the informal-education-learning gap disappear in our society. I also believe that this lack of access and exposure to these rich out-of-school educational experiences, accounts in part for the great academic achievement divide we see in our school based settings.

I want very much for these important cultural institutions to survive and thrive, (but borrowing from a former POTUS) I also want them to: “Tear down that wall!” that separates the children and families of advantage, from their disenfranchised peers. And besides, equal (meaning non-intimidating “Admission fees suggestion signs”) access is a good “audience development” technique; after all, poor and working class kids, could grow up to be adult visitors and financially supportive patrons!

Full Disclosure: Michael A. Johnson is a former mayoral appointee as a Trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library.