I interrupt my summer postings of single “summer” artworks to bring you a rant. It is normally not my style to rant like this but it brings up larger questions for me about galleries and museums, public access, and National Collections….So away we go…
As a teenager, when my life got to be too teenagery, too achy, too noisy, I would take the bus downtown and go to the National Gallery of Canada. I would walk the halls and breathe. I would sit in front of my favorite paintings and sculptures. Being in that space, with art, gave me perspectives that bumming around with my friends didn’t.
This was back in the day when the National Gallery of Canada had free admission to the Permanent Collection. Free. All open hours. Free.
Now, here comes my rant. When the heck did we decide that ART could only be enjoyed by the rich? When the heck did we allow our museums to charge such extraordinary prices that only those with surplus funds could have the pleasure of being inspired, educated, and entertained? Don’t even tell me that museums are free on Thursday evenings because I will roll my eyes. Anyone with kids knows that 5 – 8 pm are the cray cray hours. Like, whinning, crying, “I’m hungry”, “stop hitting your sister” crazy hours. No museum wants us. And we don’t want them. Not then.
Recently, on a trip back to Ottawa from Nova Scotia, I decided to go back to The National Gallery. Yes, my husband and I paid the (exorbitant) basic Permanent Collection price of $12 a person because it included the Mary Pratt exhibition my husband wanted to see and the Chagall paper works I wanted to see. We decided because we wouldn’t have time to fully see those “exhibits” plus the Alex Colville exhibit, we would only pay the General (Permanent Collection) Admission at $24. Later the next week, as luck would have it, my folks borrowed a Museum Access Pass for National Gallery of Canada from The Ottawa Public Library and we set out again. Pass in hand, we tell our National Gallery of Canada teller that we want to upgrade and pay the additional monies for the special Alex Colville exhibit. We were told we could not do this. What?? Wait – This pass is for free admission to the Permanent Collection (which is normally $12 per adult) for two adults and two kids and we are willing to pay the difference between the Permanent Collection and the Special Exhibition (which would equate to $4 a person). What’s the problem? The staff member, in her best condescending tone, said to me “Well…you didn’t pay to get into the Permanent Collection. That pass is .. free. So….”
The National Gallery of Canada, like the other large institutions in the Nation’s Capital, tell the stories of our Country and display the artifacts of our people. Yet they charge nutty prices to see it and share it. I understand times are tough. I get it – expenses are going up, profit margins are shrinking, politics are determining budgets. But seriously, this incident at the National Gallery left me shaking my head. Having access to the gallery for free when I was younger allowed me a chance to develop a relationship with art. How many young people can say that now? And when those young people grow up and have more discretionary income? Do you think they are going to pay admission costs then? Will they lobby to keep National Museums open?
(Side note: Ottawa Public Library – kudos on having passes available to borrow to so many diverse museums, making culture accessible to anyone. Well, anyone but persons who might want to pay additional money to see a special exhibition at the National Gallery, that is.)
(Another side note: B/c we had “free time” after finding a coveted parking spot, we had a chance to go see the gallery La Petite Mort on its day of closing and have a good chat with the owner and we got a chance to check out a new to us shop The Goods on Dalhousie Street and buy this gorgeous Drew Mosley print.)