LOS ANGELES -- The Museum of Contemporary Art announced Saturday that it will make admission free -- a switch made possible by $10 million gift from MOCA board of trustees President Carolyn Powers.
Powers made the announcement during dinner at the museum's annual benefit Saturday night. The event, inside the MOCA's Geffen Contemporary satellite space in Little Tokyo, was something of a 40th birthday party for the museum. About 700 guests, about 300 of them artists, leapt to their feet and applauded when Powers announced the news.
Removing financial barriers and making the museum more accessible is part of MOCA Director Klaus Biesenbach's "civic-minded" vision for MOCA, he has said.
"We are not aiming at having more visitors or larger attendance, but we're aiming at being more accessible, at having open doors," Biesenbach said in an interview. "As a civic institution, we should be like a library, where you can just walk in."
MOCA general admission for adults has been $8 to $15. The museum is free on Thursday evenings. The call for free admission has been sounded for years by various people, including Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight.
Powers' gift will cover the cost of a free admission policy for the next five years, the museum said. Revenue from general admission is typically low at museums. For the 2018 fiscal year, box office revenue totaled $1.3 million at MOCA, less than 7% of the museum's annual budget.
The gift buys MOCA time to raise money or find new revenue streams to fill the gap. A museum representative said that MOCA has "every intention that this is a permanent change."
"I'm committed to MOCA's continued success being at the forefront of diversity, inclusiveness and openness of spirit," Powers said in her speech. "So it gives me great joy to announce my birthday gift to MOCA with a gift of $10 million. And with this gift I challenge the museum to open its doors to free general admission for all."
The change is a major moment for MOCA, board Chairwoman Maria Seferian added in a statement. "We hope to increase accessibility and engagement with our visitors. Free general admission is a step towards making the museum a more inclusive cultural and civic hub."
MOCA didn't say when free admission will kick in. Museums that make the change generally experience a surge in attendance. In November, for example, as part of the Grand Avenue Arts All Access program, admission to MOCA's main site on Grand Avenue was free all day and visitorship reached 2,315 people -- one of the year's highest counts. Having more visitors requires additional security and other infrastructural changes, and MOCA said it may take months to execute the transition.
The Broad museum, across the street from MOCA, is free. So is the Getty Center in Brentwood and the Fowler Museum at UCLA. In 2014, the Hammer Museum switched to free admission. Visitors pay for parking at all of those museums; visitors to MOCA pay to park in nearby public lots, or they park on the street in metered spots.
The growing abundance of free museums contrasts with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which raised prices in late 2017. General admission for adult nonmembers is $16 to $25, but L.A. County residents can get in for free after 3 p.m. on weekdays.
MOCA currently offers ticketed and free events, such as lectures and screenings; the fee structure is still being worked out. MOCA likely will charge for select special exhibitions.
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