Free Admission Wasn’t Useful But Will It Become Necessary?

According to CityLab Berliners are returning to the city’s museums, with credit being given to free admission Sundays.  Sixty-seven museums are offering free admission which is part of a larger effort to explore ways in which people can assemble during the pandemic.


Participating museums are required to follow hygiene and distancing rules. Offering free entrance to the museums alone won’t bring back crowds to the city center — people need to feel it is safe to visit museums and public places again, said Klaus Lederer, Berlin’s Senator for Culture and Europe.


The Museum Sunday is also one of several cultural happenings in Berlin that has found a way to attract visitors amid a sustained global health crisis. Events like the Berlin Art Week, the open-air event Draussenstadt and the Clubculture reboot weekend, a pilot project to experiment how partying can work during a pandemic, are taking place in Berlin this summer.

The free admission Sundays were being planned prior to the pandemic as a way to attract a broader audience. In the US at least research has shown that free admission doesn’t really attract new visitors, but rather attract those who already visit the museum thereby delaying their next potential paid visit by a year or two. Hearing about a similar plan in Berlin made me wonder if the same held true for Germany or if there are are more nuanced dynamics at work there.

This being said, given that people have had 18+ months of not attending public events, a situation that may extend into the near future, it may be necessary to offer free admission to entice the return of those who would normally visit. What that portends for the future remains to be seen.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “Free Admission Wasn’t Useful But Will It Become Necessary?”

  1. Hi Joe,
    this is part of the truth ;-). It’s only one Sunday per month. The subject was and is controversial exactly for the reasons you describe. For all we know free admission does not attract new visitors but usually entices regular visitors to come more often. Nice, but financially without a bonus for the museum. The reason behind this is the new Humboldt Forum (cost: 600 mil €), recently opened (at least partially) which has been remodeled after an old Prussian palace which had been replaced after WW2 with the east-german DDR “Palast der Republik” which had been built with tons of Asbestos. That was one of the reasons why it quickly was demolished after unification. It could have been saved but it wasn’t possible for political reasons. Nothing should remind the people of Germany of DDR architecture 😉
    To attract visitors to the new Humboldt Forum (run by the federal government) the plan was to offer free entry for the first years. The city of Berlin with runs over 60 city museums feared that weekend tourists would only visit one museum – the one with free admission – so a deal was made that the other museums can also offer free admission, once a month … The cost (lost revenue, basically) will be covered jointly the the federal government and the city.
    The city of Berlin published the number of visitors for the first open Sunday as 20.000 – without giving numbers for previous years (including non-covid) so no comparison can be made and we can not determine if the move is successful – it might be too early anyway. A lot of people in cultural management are watching this. “Arts Management Quarterly” might be a good starting point if you are interested (,225).

    Here are some links:

    Here is a lengthy study on the effect of free admission world wide (German only, but DeepL or Google Translate might help)_

    Best regards from Germany

    • Hey Rainer – Yes, I got the impression it was only one Sunday a month although that wasn’t clearly stated. I will definitely check out the other links you provided. I am always interested in that sort of thing.


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