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Baltimore museums join free-dom drive

October 02, 2006|From the Associated Press

BALTIMORE — The Cone Collection of early 20th century French masterpieces at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the treasures of antiquity at the Walters Art Museum have long been indelible parts of the city's cultural fabric. Now cost is not a barrier to seeing them.

The museums began offering free admission to everyone on Sunday, and they hope never again to charge entrance fees. Directors of both museums say they're following the lead of museums nationwide that have gone free, even as some prominent museums have raised their prices.

"I just think it's the right thing to do," said Gary Vikan, director of the Walters. "And all indications are it's good and wise for the health of your institution over a long period of time."

The Baltimore museums are not affiliated but made the switch to free admission together, thanks to local government grants to help offset the cost.

There's plenty of recent precedent for the move. The Cincinnati Museum of Art went free in 2003; the Nelson-Adkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., did the same in 2002; the Dayton, Ohio, Art Institute eliminated fees in 1994. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts had a pay-what-you-wish policy until it went free in 1988.

Cindy Fink, director of external relations at the Cincinnati Museum of Art, said that people with a greater variety of education levels and socioeconomic backgrounds have come through the doors since admission fees were eliminated.

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