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Let Them Be Free

June 23, 2002

Having served as the public relations/public information director for both the L.A. County Museum of Art and the Los Angeles Public Library, I read Christopher Knight's long overdue proposal to do away with the museum's admission fee with great interest ("Why Pay to See Our Own Art?," June 9). His idea is bold, appropriate, and probably very unwelcome to museum and government officials.

Public libraries have a long tradition of considering themselves the people's university. Their history of serving those without money, status or even education is one of the great American stories. On the other hand, art museums, especially LACMA, have a strong elitist tradition that has undergone some change in recent years but hardly enough. By the time I came to LACMA in 1970, the leadership understood the need to adopt the rhetoric of serving a broader public in the face of major social changes, but couldn't quite muster the will to make the appropriate policy changes.

Museum admission fees are clearly most hurtful to those least able to afford them. Think of how the public and the politicians would explode if just the downtown public library were to establish an admission fee. It is about time we made visiting an art museum as easy as visiting a library. The accumulated culture of mankind is available in these two institutions, and the more people have access to that culture the stronger our society will be.

CHARLES M. WEISENBERG

Beverly Hills

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