When I was a child, the idea of going to the zoo or to a museum was a great way to spend the day. The whole family could go and enjoy the arts or nature without breaking the bank. A day at the zoo-looking at the sea lions, feeding the goats, watching the polar bears swim-was just part of growing up in the city.
My mother still regales me with stories of how, as a 3-year-old, I would run to the end of the hall at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), dance in front of the many Degas dancers and shriek in delight at the Picassos.
But that scene is not the same as it was 30-plus years ago. Today, the price of culture is exorbitant. The price of admission to MOMA is $20 for adults, $16 for seniors. Children under 16 are free, but still-if a family of four wants to go to the museum, it’s $40 just to get in the door.
Culture should be more accessible. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met), admission is now a staggering $25 per person-$17 for seniors-while children 12 and under are free. In the village of Harlem, art is a bit cheaper to view; the Studio Museum of Harlem’s suggested price is $7 for adults, $3 for seniors and students with a valid id and free for children under 12.
Now, at the Met, they say these prices are “recommended,” but when you get to the ticket booth they really want you to pay the full amount. For many folks from our community this, of course, is just beyond our means. Understand that these prices are not, in fact, set in stone! Pay what you can afford-if it is only $1, then that is what you can pay.
Don’t let them discourage you because culture should accessible. Remember that it is important-no, vital-that our children are exposed to art and culture. Moving from art to nature, going to the zoo is no longer an inexpensive outing either. At the Bronx Zoo, adults cost $16 dollars, children over 3 are $12 and seniors are $14. But then there are all the extras-that price just gets you into the zoo. If you want the “total experience,” the price goes up exponentially: adults are $29.95, children ages 3-12 are $19.95 and seniors 65 and up are $24.95.
A trip to the zoo for a family of four with two adults and two children can cost upwards of $100-and that doesn’t include food and snacks. How is it that a zoo based in the Bronx, a borough that is overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic with many people who do not have large incomes, has an attraction that most of the community cannot even afford? And for our working-class and poor families living in Harlem or the Lower East Side, the Central Park Zoo is not much better, with fees of $18 for adults and $13 for children.
Off the island of Manhattan, the Brooklyn Museum has a much lower price point for art lovers. There it is only $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors and children under 12 are free. While you are there you can visit the botanical garden, but of course there is an additional fee for that.
In Queens there is MOMA’s PS1, the suggest price for which is $10 for adults, $5.00 for students and senior citizens.
A good part of the reason for some of these higher prices is that so much public money for the arts and cultural activities has been cut from the New York City budget. But for so many young people, the only place they will see fine art is by going to the museum. And for others, the only time they will ever see farm animals is at a zoo. How can we expect our youth to care about nature if there is none to show them? How can they understand where their food comes from if they can’t see the way nature works?
We have a problem in this country with misplaced priorities. It costs less to go to a slasher film for 90 minutes than it does to spend the day in a museum or at the zoo.
And if you want so-called “high culture,” the prices are even more unattainable. A ticket to the opera can be upward of $200. So, what do we expect? We have to rely on the schools to take trips to the opera and Broadway, the zoo and the museums. But the Board of Ed is cutting back on school trips.
Our kids are losing out. We are losing out. We need culture in our lives, and we need to figure out how to pay for it.
There are galleries in our communities; they, for the most part are free. There is community Theater and opera; they are accessible to the community. There are days when the major institutions are open for free, but the lines go around the block and it can get very crowded.
It is worth it, though. It is worth it to see a child’s eyes light up as they look into the eyes of a tiger for the first time, see Monet’s water lilies, Calder’s circus or Jacob Lawrence’s series on migration or hear the songs of “Porgy and Bess.” It makes a difference in how we see the world, how we see beauty and how we see ourselves. Culture needs to be accessible. It is for the betterment of us all.