National Gallery of Art: Free Admission Policy and Special Exhibition Ticket Distribution Policies

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-04-01.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States
General Accounting   Office
Washington,   D.C. 20548

General   Government   Division


April 1,1999

The Honorable Edolphus Towns
House of Representatives

Subject: National Gallerv of Art: Free Admission and Suecial Exhibition Ticket
         Distribution Policies

Dear Mr. Towns:

This letter is in response to your November 16,1998, request for information on the free
admission policy of the National Gallery of Art (Gallery) and its contract for the distribution
of tickets for major exhibitions held at the Gallery. On February 23,1999, we briefed your
designated contact person on the results of our work. The following is a summary of the
information that we provided on the four questions we were asked to answer.

(1) What legallv would have to be done in order for the Gallerv to charge an admission fee?

The bases for the Gallery’s free admission policy are (1) the provisions of a joint resolution of
Congress approved in 1937, and (2) the 1937 trust indenture agreement signed by the A. W.
Mellon Education and Charitable Trust, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Gallery.

House Joint Resolution 217, approved on March 24,1937, authorized the construction and
maintenance of the Gallery to house the works of art donated by Andrew W. Mellon. Mr.
Mellon not only donated the art, but also the funds to construct the building to house the art.
The federal government provided the land on which the Gallery was built. Section 4(a) of the
resolution states that “the National Gallery of Art shall be at ah times properly maintained
and the works of art contained therein shah be exhibited regularly to the general public free
of charge.” [Underscoring supplied.] This provision was added by the Senate during
deliberations on the resolution to prevent the Gallery from instituting an admission fee at
some future date.

Subsequently, on June 24,1937, a trust indenture agreement stipulating the conditions of the
Mellon donation was signed by the A. W. Mellon Education and Charitable Trust, the
Smithsonian Institution, and the Gallery. Section VII of the document, which covers the
maintenance of the National Gallery of Art, specifies that “the works of art contained therein
shall be exhibited regularly to the general public free of charge.” [Underscoring supplied.]
The agreement also provides in section IX, which covers the alteration or modification of the
indenture, that after the termination of the donor trust (the A W. Mellon Education and
Charitable Trust), the agreement could be altered, modified, or supplemented upon approval
of three-fourths of the Gallery Trustees and Smithsonian Regents. According to a Gallery
Office of General Counsel official, the donor trust was terminated in 1980.

Page 1                                         GAOIGGD-99-6lR   Admission   and Exhibition   Ticket   Policies

Consequently, for the GaUery to charge an admission fee to visitors, two actions wouId have
to occur. Congress would have to amend the joint resolution to eliminate the prohibition on
charging admission fees, and the Gallery Trustees and Smithsonian Regents would have to
agree to simiIar revisions to the terms of the Mellon trust indenture agreement.

(2) What would be the maximum admission fee that Congress could establish if the restrictive
provisions were removed?

Congress could set the admission fee at any level it deemed appropriate, or it could aRow the
Gahery to set the fee. In the latter case, the GaUery could be directed to comply with Oftice of
Management and Budget Circular No. A-25, which establishes federal policy governing user
fees assessed by federal agencies for government services. According to the provisions of the
circmar, user fees are to be based upon market prices or be sufficient to recover the fuIl cost
of providing the service, depending on the specific circumstances involved.

(3) What do other countries’ naJleries charge for admission?

Using the Internet and a recent travel guide, we obtained fee information for 16 gaheries
located in foreign countries. Available information showed that six of these galleries did not
charge a general admission fee and that one, the Art Gallery of Ontario, located in Toronto,
Canada, asked for a donation Two gaheries had a fixed general admission fee that ranged in
equivalent U.S. do&us from $4.10 at the Scottish National GaUery of Modern Art in
Edinburgh, Scotland, to $4.66 at the Galleria NazionaIe di Arte Modema in Rome, Italy. The
other seven gaheries had varied fees that depended on factors such as age of the visitor and
 day of the week Several of these galleries had free admission on specified day(s) of each
month. The maximum fees paid by visitors at these galleries when free admission was not
 avaiIable ranged in equivalent U.S. dollars from $2.31 at the New NationaI Gallery in Berlin,
 Gemany, to $8.74 at the Vatican Museums in Rome, Italy. At least eight gaIIeries, including
 six that did not have a general admission fee, charged for special exhibitions. Information on
 the amount of these fees was available only for the Louvre in Paris. It charged $5.17
 (equivalent U.S. dollars) for special exhibitions in its Napoleon Hall. Other galleries only
 noted that the fees varied. The enclosure to this letter contains more detailed information on
 the use of admission fees by foreign galleries.

 (4) How did TicketMaster obtain the Gallerv’s ticket distribution contract?

 According to Gallery officials, the Gallery Iirst used a private ticket distributor during its 1986
 exhibition The New Painting: Impressionism 18741886. Prior to that time, the Gallery had its
 own internally operated ticket distribution system. However, for the 1986 exhibition, AT&T,
 the exhibition sponsor, provided the services of TicketCenter for ticket distribution, at no
 cost to the Gallery. Prom 1986 through 1999, the Gahery used a private ticket distribution
 company for 11 special exhibitions.

 According to information provided by the GaIlery, TicketCenter later purchased Ticketron,
 another company used by the Gallery, and then changed its name to TicketMaster.

 Page 2                                          GAO/GGD-99-6lR   Admission   and Exhibition   Ticket Policies

TicketMaster has held the Gallery contract since 1991. The most recent contract was awarded
on December 10,1997, for a 3-year term. The Gallery official who negotiated the contracts
told us that all the TicketMaster contracts have been sole source and, since July 1,1992, have
been at no cost to the Gallery. The decision to sole source was based upon the effective
working relationship between the Gallery and TicketMaster and the understanding of the
Gallery official that TicketMaster had a virtual monopoly with regard to major ticket
distribution efforts throughout the country. Between 1988 and January 1991, the Gallery paid
a monthly fee of $250 for each ticket machine operated at the Gallery by Gallery personnel to
distribute tickets. According to the official, the rental fees were paid from Gallery trust funds
and not appropriated funds. Beginning with the contract negotiated in 1992, the rental fees
were waived. In addition to the machines, TicketMaster also provides the ticket stock at no
cost to the Gallery. Generally, TicketMaster receives its revenue from the fees charged to
ticket purchasers who obtain their tickets from TicketMaster directly.

For the recently,completed Van Gogh exhibition, the Gallery estimated that it could
accommodate about 450,000 visitors. Visitors were required to obtain a ticket. Tickets could
be obtained in one of three ways. About 132,000advanced tickets were available through
TicketMaster. Fvhile the ticket itself was free, Ticket&laster levied a $2 service charge for
each ticket obtained from a walk-up location and a service charge of $2.75, plus a $1.25 mail-
handling fee, for all tickets obtained over the telephone. The Gallery did not receive any
portion of these revenues. All the remainin g tickets were available, at no cost to the visitors,
at the Gallery. Of these tickets, about 100,000advance admission tickets were distributed free
of charge by Gallery staff using the free TicketMaster ticket machines at the Gallery. The
remaining tickets, about 2,000 per day, were issued on a daily basis. These tickets were also
provided by the tiee TicketMaster ticket machines at the Gallery and distributed by Gallery
staff members free of charge.

On March 19,1999, we obtained oral comments on a draft of this letter from the Gallery
Director’s designated official, the Deputy General Counsel. She stated that the Gallery agreed
with the contents of our letter and asked that some editorial clarifications be included. These
clarifications have been included where appropriate.

To gather the foregoing information, we interviewed Gallery officials, reviewed both the
legislative background on House Joint Resolution 217 and the trust indenture agreement, and
reviewed the ticket distribution contract files. We also searched the Internet and Frommers’
Europe Travel Guide for 1999 for information on admission fees charged by galleries in other
countries. We did not independently verify the fee information obtained from either of these
sources. We did ourwork in Washington, D.C., between November 1998 and February 1999 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. At the conclusion of our
briefing on February 23,1999, your designated contact stated that the information we
provided, which we have summarized above, satisfied your request and that no additional
work was necessary.

Page 3                                          GAOKGD-99-61B   Admission   and Exhibition   Ticket   Policies

We are sending copies of this letter to Senator Mitch McConnell, Jr., Chairman, and Senator
Christopher J. Dodd, Ranking Minority Member, Senate Committee on Rules and
Administration; Representative William M. Thomas, Chairman, and Representative Steny H.
Hoyer, Ranking Minority Member, House Committee on House Adminktmtiom and the
Honorable Earl A Powell, III, Director, National Gallery of Art. Copies will also be made
available to others upon request

If you or your staff have any questions about this letter, please contact me or Ronald Ring, the
Assistant Director on this assignment, on (202) 51243387.

Sincerely yours,

Bernard L. Ungar
Director, Government Business
Operations Issues


 Page 4                                         GAO/GGD-99-6l.E   Admission   and Exhibition   Ticket   Policies

Admission Fees Charged by Some
Foreign Galleries/Museums

                                                                           Fee for general                Fee for special
                                                                             admission* b                    exhibitsb
Name of organization                         Location                    YeslNo Fee range              Yes/No Fee range
Art Gallery of Ontario                       Toronto, Canada             Yes               Donation     Yes              Varies
British Museum                               London, England             No                             Yes              Varies
Galleria Nazionale di Arte Modema            Rome, . Italy _   .         Yes
                                                                         ._           __       $4.66
                                                                                           _. A_ --     N/A
Israel Museum                                Jerusalem, Israel           Yes          %3.41-$6.82       N/A
Nationa 1 Gallery                            London, IEngland”           No                             Yes              Varies
National Gallery of Australia                Canberra, Australia         No                             Yes                 NJA
National Gallery of Canada                   Ottawa, Canada              No                             Yes              Varies
National Gallery of Ireland                  Dublin, Ireland             No                             Yes                 N/A
National Portrait Gallery                    London, England             No            -       _~       Yes              Vanes
New National Gallery                         Berlin. Germany             Yes           Free-32.31       N/A
Prado Museum                                 Madrid, Spain               YES           Fl *ee-$3.39     N/A
Royal Museum of Fine Art                     Copenhagen, Denmati         Yes           Free-$4.57       N/A
Scottish National Gallery of Modem Art Edinburgh, Scotland               Yes                   $4.10    N/A
The Louvre Palace and Museum                 Paris, France               Yes            Free-$7.75      Yes               $5.17
Vancouver Art Gallery                        Vancouver, Canada           Yes            Fret t-$5.30    N/A
\Illtirsm      Ml ,PPl ,mc
 . . . ...YU.I I..“~“.., . .Y                . .“...“I ItaW
                                             Rnmm      ..‘.,              . “”
                                                                         YOC            l=rfsr
                                                                                        . .a$6.74       N/A
Note: N/A means the information was not available.
-General admission fees may be based on the day of visitation and/or the visitor’s age. For example, visitation to The Louvre
Palace and Museum is free the first Sunday of each month and every day for visitors under the age of 18.
bFees are stated in US. dollars based upon the currency exchange rates on 2/2/99.
“Frommers’ Euroce Travel Guide, 1999.
Source: Unless other&e stated, information was obtained from Internet sources.

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Page 6   GAO/GGD-99-6l.R   Admission   and Exhibition   Ticket Policies
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