Entry fee to new WA Museum may disadvantage low income earners says professor

The New WA Museum, viewed from James and Beaufort streets. Picture: Multiplex, Hassell and OMA.
The New WA Museum, viewed from James and Beaufort streets. Picture: Multiplex, Hassell and OMA.

THE WA Musuem will join Sydney and Melbourne in charging adults a $15 entry fee when the new state museum reopens in Northbridge in 2020.

Prior to closing down for refurbishment the WA Museum was free of charge to all and attracted 375,000 visitors a year.

Curtin University tourism lecturer Professor Kirsten Holmes said there had been ongoing debate within the academic community as to whether museums should be free.

“When museums undergo refurbishment at a significant cost they have to think how they will fund it,” she said.

“Sponsorships and donations are an uncertain source of funding whereas an entry fee is a reliable source of income.

“I don’t think the $15 fee will deter tourists who are used to paying to visit tourist attractions, I think the greatest impact will be on local people and families going for a day out.”

Dr Holmes said the fee may particularly deter low income earners from visiting.

“Free entry is very important for children because it makes it more affordable for families to visit,” she said.

“Additionally a lifelong interest in what a museum has to offer starts in childhood and these are the future adults who will pay to come and visit the museum in adulthood.

“However research shows that people who visit museums are generally people with the highest levels of education.

“Their education enables them to ‘understand’ museum exhibits and they use cultural activities such as museums as a way of accumulating cultural capital.

“Possession of cultural capital can reinforce status and hierarchies within society.

“There is the idea that if you charge to visit, people from lower income families can’t visit and you are potentially limiting their potential for advancement because you are limiting their access to cultural capital.”

Dr Holmes encouraged the State Government to consider innovative ways to make a visit to the museum affordable.

“Introducing an annual card such as Perth Zoo offers enables families to come in more regularly and is attractive to people with a particular interest in exhibits,” she said.

“The Met in New York has certain days and times when you can pay what you can afford which is a common approach used by museums around the world that have an entry fee.

“A lot of museums also make their money on the secondary spend such as gift shops, cafes, membership programs and blockbuster exhibitions.

“I don’t think in the first year or two visitor numbers will be a problem because it will be new and exciting.

“But how the museum maintains that momentum will be important to keep people coming through the doors.”

The State Government is calling for expressions of interest for businesses to provide food and beverage, and retail options within the new museum and Perth Cultural Centre precinct.

The mix of cafe, restaurant, pop-up and commercial tenancies are available at the Art Gallery of WA, two pop-up locations in the Perth Cultural Centre and three spaces in the new museum.

The State Government said it was still working on various ticketing packages and will announce details in the lead up to the opening of the museum.

Entry fees to museums around Australia

WA Museum: $15 adults children free

Australian Museum (Sydney): $15 adults children free

Melbourne Museum: $15 adults children free

Queensland Museum: Free

South Australian Museum: Free

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery: Free

National Museum of Australia (Canberra): Free

Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory: Free