The Whitney Raises Ticket Prices in Response to Lackluster Admissions

The museum claims waning admissions lingering from the pandemic was a factor in the decision to raise prices by $5.

As of yesterday (July 13), the Whitney Museum of American Art has become the priciest museum in New York City. With a hike in ticket prices rivaling some of the most expensive admission costs globally, the institution has joined a wave of museums increasing entry fees as they struggle through inflation and the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Large glass building pictured from afar on NYC street
A view of the Whitney from Gansevoort Street. Ed Lederman

Adult visitors will now pay $30 instead of $25, while tickets for students and seniors have risen to $24 from $18, according to the Whitney, which hasn’t adjusted entry costs since 2016. The hike follows similar changes made by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) last summer, which increased its prices by $5 in July of 2022. Excluding New Yorkers and students from New Jersey and Connecticut, who are offered a pay-as-you-wish option, Met visitors now pay $30 per ticket for adults, $22 for seniors and $17 for students.

The Whitney’s decision was influenced by factors like “inflation, rising costs, and still-recovering attendance,” said the institution. Admission to the museum will remain free for visitors aged 18 and under, active military and veterans, and SNAP and EBT cardholders. While the Whitney saw an increase in visitors in 2022, which brought in $7.6 million in entrance fees compared to $2.5 million in 2021, the museum has yet to revisit its pre-Covid admission revenues of $13.6 million in 2019, $10 million in 2018 and $12.4 million in 2017.

Despite the Whitney’s attempt to bring in more revenue, heightened entrance fees may do more harm than good to the museum’s admission figures. When England’s York Art Gallery began charging for entry in 2015, the institution saw its attendance drop by 60 percent in one year. Meanwhile, the Kentucky Museum saw visitation rise by 45 percent after it began offering free admission in 2019. However, research into a direct correlation between ticket prices and admission remains inconclusive, with studies suggesting that rises and falls in visitor data may be more closely linked to other factors such as the location of institutions, transportation availability and leisure time available to museum-goers.

Why are museums becoming more expensive?

Far from the only museum turning to ticket prices for financial relief, the Whitney’s adjustment follows a series of recent museum admission hikes. In the past five years, nearly 15 museums across the U.S. have reportedly raised their ticket prices by between 20 percent and 60 percent. The Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) were granted approval for fee increases in April, following similar hikes at Chicago’s Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and Field Museum in January. Citing inflation, lackluster admission and maintenance needs as factors, general admission tickets rose by $4 for MSI visitors and $7 for out-of-state visitors to the Art Institute.

Last month, the Philadelphia Museum of Art claimed Covid-19 recovery played a part in their decision to increase entry from $25 to $30. And the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in May voted to hike prices at both the Natural History Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits by 20 percent to bolster funds for programming, exhibitions and collection maintenance.

Pricing changes for art institutions have extended beyond the U.S., as evidenced by the Hong Kong Palace Museum’s recent decision to pull its weekly free admission days after experiencing low attendance. In Egypt, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced that as of December, entrance prices for archeological sites will go up to help fund restoration services.

Environmental and political issues have also played a part. Starting in June and running through September, state-run museums in Italy will raise their fees by 1 euro and use the extra proceeds to save items of cultural heritage damaged by floods in the Emiglia-Romagna region. Meanwhile, in response to rising energy prices across Europe stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Uffizi Galleries in April hiked up their general admission from 20 euros ($22) to 25 euros ($28).

The Whitney Raises Ticket Prices in Response to Lackluster Admissions