Time to Charge for the Smithsonian?

Photo courtesy of
‘Sunset over the Smithsonian Castle’
courtesy of ‘specimenlife’

Making news the last few days has been the debt commission lead by Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson, two men who see a problem and who have no problem marching the sacred cows off to the butcher at the end of their career.  This morning, PJ Orvetti from NBC Washington has unearthed one of their proposals that may prove controversial: a $7.50 admission fee for the museums.

Details aren’t too clear right now if that’s $7.50 for all of the museums, or $7.50, but you could see how a trip to DC for a family of four from the midwest could increase in cost by $120 pretty quickly.  Part of the attractiveness of the DC region as a tourist destination is that so much of it is free from charge.  The fortunes of the region are already looking in flux with the wave of deficit-averse politicians coming to legislate, do we really want to shoot a giant hole in our tourist draws?

No, the Smithsonian is our collected treasure.  It is our trophy case.  Those trophies were built with the heart and money of the American Public and to charge for them would be a travesty.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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14 thoughts on “Time to Charge for the Smithsonian?

  1. Perhaps, like some other museums, you send people through a ticket window that ask for suggested donations. That’ll guilt people in to paying a few bucks, if nothing else.

  2. the Smithsonian is a window into our nations heritage. It is the National Museum. If you charge people to see the museums, you separate them from the history of the country, and from their heritage.

    I would never, ever support charging entry at the Smithsonian. Heck, I don’t even like the idea of charging for museum entry period.

  3. Okay, $7.50 is kind of a lot, but why not charge even $2.00 to get in. The country is in a serious way right now and evey hole in the budget should be plugged. No matter how small. I don’t think charging a small fee would “separate” anyone from anything. People regularly pay $10 or more to see movies why not contribute to the upkeep of national treasures too?

  4. I don’t disagree with anything Tom says. However, I’m sure that equally compelling arguments could be said about many other spending cuts/revenue increases proposed by Messrs. Bowles and Simpson.

    I think the point of their proposal is that significantly reducing the deficit/debt is going to hurt, no matter which approach is followed. It may be easy for Republicans and Tea Partiers to clamor for deficit/debt reductions but, if you’re forced to spell out HOW you intend to do this, it clearly becomes a much trickier proposition. It’s too bad that voters seem content with slogans and not details.

    But reducing the deficit/debt is a necessary pain and while people denouncing things that directly affect them is to be expected, the “not in my back yard” defense will get us nowhere. And I would argue that this pain is a VERY healthy thing. Hopefully it will make us think twice (or three, four and five times) before throwing soldiers at a problem. If casualties (on both sides) don’t get the lesson across that war should be a last resort, then perhaps losing the interest deduction on your mortgage will. Ditto for bailing out the banking industry and not following through with proper regulations to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    Now, whether to do this right now or once the economy is more fully recovered is another question.

  5. I’m sorry, but this is a mistaken view. I have now gone to museums in other US cities and to museums in other countries (some are UNESCO World Heritage sites) and the vast norm is charging for admission. And there are still HUGE lines for them.

    Just last week I went to Chicago. In the middle of the week, in November, there were huge lines to get into the Field Museum ($29 for an adult), the Science & Industry Museum ($15), and the Shedd Aquarium ($27) just to name three. And they had some of the most amazing exhibits I have ever seen. There are exhibits throughout the Smithsonian’s museums which have not changed since I was in kindergarten, nearly 30 years ago.

    Charging admission will have minor effects on tourism, and could provided needed funds to the Smithsonian. I only wish they would implement it without removing government funding as well.

  6. Asking us to pay admission when our tax dollars also fund the museums is hitting us twice. I like the idea of encouraging more donations. The Smithsonian has looked at larger corporate donations, but doesn’t do a lot of fund-raising to average citizens. You could also sell passes for tourists and residents that would get them in by a faster line. I understand we need to offset costs, but why do the tax cuts for the rich stay and free museums go? Mind boggling.

  7. The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum already charges $15 for admission. And the National Museum of Natural History charges $6 for the butterflies exhibit. (Not to mention overcharging for Cokes and Imax movies.)But regardless of the precedent, I think it’s worth fighting to preserve free admission.

  8. I think once upon a time the Park Service charged a ten-cent admission for the Washington Monument, during the Jimmy Carter era, but then made it free when they realized it cost more to collect the money than they were pulling in. Not sure where to go to verify this story.

  9. In so far as this is a real proposal, the $225 million bandied about is just a made up number. It’s simply and arbitrary $7.50 multiplied by the 30 million visits (not visitors) the Smithsonian had last year. It’s irresponsible (for the Commission, not you guys) to even use this number.

  10. I’ve lived here all of my life. In the last few years, I have developed an entirely new appreciation for the Smithsonian and all it has to offer. I am a SAHM and homeschool my 3 kids. It’s wonderful to be able to take an impromptu field trip to one of the many different museums even when funds are tight. It would be a shame if we could no longer do that.

  11. The visitation to the Smithsonian museums are tremendously high. As an employee, I witness this daily.

    I support the idea of having to pay a one-time fee of $7.50(daily) if in fact I was allowed to use this as a pass to gain entry to all the museums.

    I find it really hard to believe that we gripe over paying a small fee that will greatly benefit us in the end, but will pay extremely high prices to dine in the museums restaurants.

    The issue of our tax dollars funding the museums are hardly even an issue at this point when it is indeed for a great cause, versus paying to fund an able-bodied person to collect welfare for years to come.