My first long-term museum job (meaning that I wasn’t just there for the summer) was at a historic farm in North Carolina. Historic Oak View County Park was fully funded by Wake County, which meant everything we did was free to visitors—admission, school tours, special events. Occasionally, we even got magical phone calls at the end of the fiscal year: “You have to spend X dollars in the next two weeks.” It was all very, very nice.
When I started working at Dallas Heritage Village, it took me a little while to adjust to a very different funding structure. As Gary has discussed previously, our budget is made up of all kinds of revenue streams, including admission and program fees. At first, some of our program fees seemed really high to me. I was used to free! Eventually, I did adjust, and I’ve basically gotten over my fear of fees. Then again, if I ruled the world, all museums would be free.
All of this preamble to simply say: we thought long and hard before deciding to raise admission rates. Some points for you to ponder:
· We haven’t raised admission rates since 1999. Can you think of anything that’s the same price as 1999?
· During that same period, city support has declined dramatically. In 2000, we received 25% of our annual budget from the City of Dallas. Today, we receive about 14%. In hard dollars, that’s a difference of over $100,000.
· Even with the price increase, we are still more affordable than many other cultural attractions in Dallas. In addition to admission being lower, we don’t charge for parking. We’re also less than a movie—and we let you bring food in and won’t shush you if you talk to your family during your experience.
· We’re not looking at the admission increase as the only way to balance our budget, but it is a revenue stream that needs to grow. Our prices need to better reflect the museum experience we offer. In 1999, we also began the living history program, starting with just the farmstead. Since then, we’ve added staff positions to several more buildings, including the Saloon (who doesn’t love root beer?), Shotgun House and Section House. And don’t forget our “staff” animals, including Nip and Tuck, the chickens and sheep. It’s a very different museum experience than it was 12 years ago.
Some things aren’t changing a bit! School tour prices will remain at $4/per child. Family memberships will still be $75—and with the price increase, they’re an even bigger bargain! Speaking of membership, now would be a great time to join—get your membership card just in time for cooler temperatures and fall events. Most of our other program fees are staying the same, though special events will be going up as well. For example, adult gate admission for Candlelight will be $12.
Beginning September 1, adult admission will be $9. Seniors 65 and older will be $7. Kids 4 to 12 will be $5. The little guys are still free.
We know that in this economy we may have priced ourselves out of the reach of many local families. And we really hate that! We will continue to offer a limited number of free or reduced admission days—keep an eye on our event calendar for Family Past Times (which picks back up again in October).
As the educator, I hate talking about money and budgets. I would much rather focus on the cute kids, interesting programs, and sharing history in creative and fun ways. On the other hand, keeping the budget in mind allows us to continue to be the Village you all know and love.