Visitors at the barnes. The man on the right knows not to touch anything, because he’s got an audio guide. The woman on the right is probably about to lunge for a painting. (Photo by R. Kennedy, via

Now that it’s been settled in its new location for almost a year, the Barnes Foundation is getting comfortable and raising ticket prices — which wouldn’t really be newsworthy if it weren’t for the reason they’re providing for the change. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the museum is overcrowded and lots of visitors don’t know how to behave. Barnes President Derek Gillman offered these choice words:

“We’re seeing many more people not familiar … with what is proper behavior.” He added that the gallery wanted those additional visitors, but with new gallerygoers “we’re seeing more transgressions of people touching things and getting too close” to the art, he said.

Popularity’s a bitch, ain’t it?

The new ticket price for adults, up to $22 from $18, now includes the audio guide, which tells visitors not to touch or get too close to the art. Another Inquirer article reports that Gillman himself will be heard on the guide, “accompanied by chamber music,” saying: “Please don’t sit on any of the chairs in the room. That’s what the benches are for.” So in theory, most people will now get the audio guide and be lulled into obedience. In practice, it sort of looks the museum is raising prices to stave off the masses. To be fair, though, the price increase is also meant to spread out the distribution of visitors, and tickets will remain at the old price level, $18, for the last three hours of every day.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

20 replies on “Barnes Raises Ticket Prices So That People Will Stop Touching the Art”

  1. I feel like there’s a missed opportunity here to talk about barriers to museum literacy. Not everyone knows how to orientate themselves within a traditional museum space. Who bears the burden of reversing this lack of education?

    1. “Orient as a verb means to “find direction” or “give direction.” Orientate is not a word!

      1. If we’re going to start word-snarking A) not true, “orientate” is a variant of “orient” which you can find in the OED and certainly any online dictionary. B) You recognized the meaning of the word which… makes it a word, in the descriptivist sense anyway, which is really the only sense that matters. Irregardless, you are incorrect.

    2. Good question. I would say probably the museum, but I’m not sure that raising your admission prices so that people will hopefully use the audio guide, which will then tell them not to touch the art, is the answer.

      Then again, I’m not sure what really is the answer. It’s not like you can give every visitor a short lecture before they enter the galleries.

      1. I think their “solution” is terrible. They moved to the city to make their institution more accessible to a broader audience, and raising prices is antithetical to that goal. Furthermore, audio guides are probably the worst way to go about instilling museum literacy (I have seen statistics placing their use-rates at about 10%). I’m assuming they want to preserve the aesthetic purity of their galleries, but a far better way to keep people from touching art would be barriers and more prominent signs advising people to be respectful. I have no idea what kind of student outreach program the Barnes Foundation has, but I would hope that they are bringing in groups of primary school students every day to directly teach them museum literacy and engage them with the collections and the history they represent. Hopefully this would help alleviate the issues they are facing today down the road.

        1. In school systems where arts funding is not abundant, museum education programs pick up the slack in a very significant way. Museum literacy does start with schools, but families play a huge role as well. One of the biggest barriers to museum literacy is that there are a lot of demographics who don’t consider a museum visit as a leisure activity, whether due to cost or cultural barriers. They don’t know how to make use of museum resources such as wayfinding information, learning areas, or didactics. Engaging with these audiences is really fundamental to ensuring the long term health of a museum as a community cultural space. It’s a quandary to say the least.

  2. This is a 100% LIE. Anyone who has visited The Barnes knows that the rooms are as big as a bedroom and there is a guard posted in every room or in the connecting doorways who stares at you and if you get within a foot of the art, says back up. This is such a lie. It is an excuse to raise prices. The ticket price for The Barnes is too high as it stands now. It is not the Philadelphia Museum of Art with a varied collections and substantial installations and special exhibits. In fact, I would say that the Barnes collection is really redundant since is is based on a person’s private collection and, therefore, taste. There isn’t much to “orientate” oneself with in a museum. Just walk around and look at the pieces. Not very different than walking up and down the grocery store isles looking at the items.

    1. well if the above is true = then they should not have stolen the collection for themselves – the Barnes collection was doing fine where it was – now the Philadelphia Museum has troubles and you blame it on the collection? The let it go back where it was honored

  3. too bad they moved the collection to a museum whose patrons have no idea how to respect the art = they did not have this problem before – the location demanded respect – this museum does not

    1. That is incredibly condescending. Not everyone has had the access to the institutions which instil the normative codes of museum behavior. These visitors clearly want to engage with the art, why else would they be visiting? This is a teachable moment, a moment to do some truly commendable museum education. No need to turn your nose up at people who haven’t had the same opportunities as you.

      1. NOT CONDESCENDING not touching art is basic politeness – engaging in art does not mean touching it – and museum manners are no more than basic manners.

        1. Even basic skills have to be taught. Denigrating someone who is ignorant but willing to learn, as evidenced by visiting a museum, is indeed condescending.

          1. you have to be kidding me – basic skills – not touching anything that is in a public place that is not yours – is a basic skill and not condescending to expect basic politeness from anyone – how in the heck were you brought up that that would not be a basic politeness

          2. Did you teach yourself how to read? How to tie your shoes? How to boil water? No, someone taught you. Just because it seems implicit to you does not make it obvious to everyone. Just because a code of behaviors is learned in one context does not mean the code will be applied in another (say, a museum), particularly if one has not spent time in the latter space. You are denigrating people for their ignorance – people who want to learn. Are you not seeing the problem with this? Think about this: where you live, the color of your skin, and how much money you have impinge on your chances of having spent the time in museums necessary to inculcate the code of basic behaviors you’re talking about. Many of the people you are bemoaning have simply never had the privilege of visiting a museum, or have only been a handful of times. The implication, that such people have no business in museums is insulting. Furthermore, it is antithetical to the function of a museum as a didactic institution, and is an insult to Albert Barnes, who envisioned his collection as a means of public art education.

  4. I’m sorry, but couldn’t this easily be resolved by signs on floor stands that say “Please do not touch art pieces?” I don’t understand why this is so complicated.

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