Access refers to visitors’ ability to come to your museum and gain admission to the exhibitions, programs, and services offered. Thus, access is about availability, affordability, and how people get to your offerings. In order to improve access, institutions must consider the visitors’ financial status and transportation . Access differs from accessibility. Accessibility refers to designing buildings, spaces, exhibitions, programs, and services that can be engaged by visitors of all  physical, sensory, and cognitive abilities, and is covered here

Admission Cost

Your museum can be a meeting place, an inspiration, or even a local icon in your community. However, striking a balance between keeping museums affordable and keeping your doors open can be a difficult one. According to the Association of Art Museum Directors, in 2017 32% of museums in the United States and Canada offer free admission, while 7% suggest a donation and 61% charge a set admission fee.

This graph which was published by the Association of Art Museum Directors displays the price of admission in relation to the size of a museum's budget. A Museum with a budget less than $5 million charges visitors $2 on average for admission. Museums with a budget between $5 million and $10 million tend to charge $6 for admission, museums with a budget between $10 million and $20 million tend to charge $7 for admission, museums with a budget between $20 million and $45 million charge $8, and museums with a budget over $45 million charge on average $13 for admission. This graph also shows that as this admission fee increases, the expense the museum pays for each visitor also increases. You may consider the budget and expense per visitor of your institution in order to determine the price of admission.
Budgetary factors along with the expense paid for each visitor must be considered when determining the admission fee for your institution. Graph: “Art Museums By the Numbers,” Association of Art Museum Directors, 2018

Variable Pricing

In place of offering free admission to all, many museums have reduced or eliminated the cost of admission for certain visitors. Several large museums are moving towards reduced admission fees for certain visitors or for certain days of the week. Recently, the American Alliance of Museums discussed a “Pay as You Stay” method of pricing, which would allow visitors to determine the cost of their own visit. 

Museums for All

This national initiative brings together a coalition of museums which offer free or reduced admission (no more than a $3 fee) for patrons and families who present their SNAP EBT cards with valid identification. 

As of 2018, institutions participating in Museums for All reported that their visitation and membership increased by 25%; meanwhile their admission revenue did not decrease.  

The Institute of Museum and Library Services offers an online toolkit, which shares testimonies of participating institutions, along with information on how to become involved in Museums for All.   

Other Initiatives

  • Over 100 cultural institutions in New York City and its surrounding boroughs have partnered with the organization Cool Culture, to offer low income families with free admission. 
  • The Pay It Forward Campaign at the Roberson Museum and Science Center allows patrons the opportunity to purchase an additional ticket for someone else, who would otherwise not be able to afford the price of admission. 
  • The Playtime Project offers weekly programs to children housed in homeless shelters and transitional housing sites throughout Washington, D.C. They also organize field trips to local sites, including museums, amusement parks, and sports games. 
  • The Path with Art program utilizes the principles of art therapy to reach out to local homeless communities.     
  • The New York Public Library Culture Pass partners local libraries with museums. Library card holders are granted free admission to 33 museums throughout New York City. 


Bus Programs

Along with the cost of admission, a lack of transportation often impedes visitors’ ability to explore a museum. The Albuquerque Museum Foundation developed the Magic School Bus Initiative, in order to reach local school children with the opportunity to interact with their collections. Through this program, the museum dedicates a portion of their donation funds to pay for the bussing of more than 10,000 K-12 students each year. 

Other museums, such as the Michener Art Museum, offer bus scholarships. For those schools that apply and are approved, the scholarship covers the cost of travel and programming. The Maryhill Museum of Art initiated a Bus Reimbursement Program, which provides up to $250 to cover the transportation costs of small classroom visits. The type of bus program your institution develops is largely dependent on the size of your budget, and your audience base. 

A number of transportation grants are also available to assist your institution with such costs. The Big Yellow School Bus Grant is offered by select State Arts & Culture Councils. This program covers the expense of transportation for schools organizing large field trips. The size of this grant varies by State. The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) also provides a Fund-A-Bus Minigrant for ASTC-member science centers and museums. 

Reduced Pricing for Public Transport

If your institution is located in a metropolitan region, reducing the cost of admission for public transport riders serves as a more viable option for many visitors. In Philadelphia, museums have partnered with SEPTA to offer discounted tickets for those who show their SEPTA card.    

School Partnerships

School-Museum Partnerships encourages students to learn through creative avenues and establishes a relationship with local communities. The American Alliance of Museums describes the importance of museum-school partnerships in further detail, especially in regard to public schools with low funding. 

If students are unable to travel to your museum, another option is to bring the museum to them. The Concord Museum collaborates with local educators to assist in the development of Social Studies curriculums for K-12 school children. 

Don’t Forget About Hours and Directions

Museum hours can be restrictive for many visitors. The 10am to 5pm operational window can make regular museum visits difficult for working people. Some recent recommendations have suggested altering operating hours to accommodate traditional laboring hours. The Durham Museum offers a $5 after 5pm admission fee throughout the summer. 

In order to serve tourists who may be unfamiliar with the area in which your museum is located, it can be beneficial to provide a detailed map with directions on your institution’s website.