Museology Master of Arts Program

October 17, 2019

When A Museum Decides to Stop Charging for Admission

Thesis by Catherine Allen (2019)

The purpose of this case study was to identify the factors that a museum and its staff examine when considering the adoption of a free or suggested donation admissions policy. The research focused on the guidelines that the museum staff and board consulted during the process, how public accessibility factored into the decision, how staff and board members communicated throughout this process, and the predicted versus actual outcomes of the policy change on visitors and stakeholders. This study was significant to the museology field because it added literature about how museums in the United States decide whether a free admission policy may be appropriate for their institution. Data were collected via semi-structured interviews with a board member, volunteer, and members of staff at the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, WA as well as document analysis. Study results suggested that, led primarily by its executive director, the museum chose to adopt their “Pay As You Will” admissions model in response to three factors: audience research, unstable sources of funding, and the desire to fulfill its mission and strategic plan by increasing public accessibility. This study found that the museum consulted many sources of information prior to making this decision, leveraged the model to secure funding and to market other programs, and increased the size and diversity of the museum’s audience as a result. The limitations of this study were the use of one site in the case study, the site’s self-reported data, and the site’s unique position as the only free admission children’s museum in the United States.



Allen, C., & O’Donnell, Wilson. (2019). When a museum decides to stop charging for admission. Seattle]: University of Washington.