Museums must reinvent themselves.
Should there be free admission to state museums or not? Florian Mercker, private-wealth art expert, uses the current discussion as an impetus to think about concepts for the museum of the future.
In Germany, the abolition of entrance fees to state museums is discussed at regular intervals. Reflexively, those who have no money of their own - general directors, politicians, administrators - conjure up the death of the West. The entrance fees are indispensable to keep the administration running. Free admission would only subsidise the better earners. And besides, what costs nothing is worth nothing. Sometimes, forgive me, this debate seems "typically German" to me;
In fact the entrance fees are only a small item in the total budget of the museum. And a tiny amount in the Treasury Department's budget. You have no idea what I'm getting at. The question of money is not the decisive one. It's more about what a museum should do. And how this can be achieved efficiently.
When Ludwig I opened the Alte Pinakothek in 1836, he felt above all committed to popular education. And wanted to make art treasures accessible to the general public. That, I think, should still be the top priority of our state museums today. Many private museums have already abolished admission. Here the private collector and museum founder is usually responsible for the costs. But it is not unusual for companies to get involved as well. Or an entrepreneur opens his own collection for a larger public or his own employees. The goal is always the same: to provide as many people as possible with a relaxed educational experience without any financial outlay.
A look at the Anglo-Saxon countries shows how this can also work on a broad scale. Shortly after the turn of the millennium Great Britain abolished the entrance fees for the national museums. This only applies to the permanent collections, not to - usually expensive - special exhibitions. But at least. Since then not only the number of visitors has increased dramatically. The structure of the visitors and how they interact with each other has also changed: It is no longer the educated middle-class claim of the elites that is decisive, but the feeling of community among like-minded people.
To create this feel-good effect is a goal that is worthwhile in my opinion. But how can we do this financially? In Great Britain, the opening hours were also adapted to the needs of the new clientele. There are evening openings or special events at night time. The customer comes, consumes in the adjoining café, at the museum bar or buys at the end of the tour in the museum shop. The income increases and the visitor takes his well-being home with him in printed form as poster, postcard, calendar or coffee cup. There it constantly reminds him to return to the aura of the originals as soon as possible.
The second, even more important step is the stronger involvement of private patrons and companies. Let's not kid ourselves: The museums themselves hardly have any purchasing budgets any more. Therefore they are dependent on loans and the help of sponsors anyway. Why not professionalise this approach? The Museum Folkwang in Essen has long since realized free admission in this way. The monetary loss is paid by a sponsor of the house, the Krupp Foundation. And on a Wednesday, for example, Allianz took over the lost entrance to the Munich Pinakothek der Moderne.
For this to succeed much more frequently, a rethink is necessary among those responsible. Museums should no longer be obsolete, but should be managed with an entrepreneurial approach. I am sure that many private individuals would then get involved. I was in London myself recently. And I enjoyed making a quick detour to the National Gallery during my lunch break. I looked at a picture there for half an hour and then left again. That's exactly how many visitors do it. They simply let art have an effect on them, without having to queue up at the cash desk beforehand or asking themselves whether the entrance is actually "worth it". This is the future. Cancels the entrance fees.