Government-funded art appreciation

When I lived in DC, one of my favorite things to do on a weekend was wander down to the Mall and walk through the National Gallery. Sometimes I'd stay 15 minutes; sometimes I'd stay for an hour. It didn't matter how long I stayed, because I didn't have to pay for admission.

Now that I live in New York, I don't do that, because museums charge admission. Today the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that [it will raise its recommended admission price]({F71BB7CE-EE24-449D-AB1E-537D1496669C}) to $25. "Recommended" means that visitors can pay whatever they want, but for me, at least, having a cashier ring up the ticket price automatically is fairly effective mechanism for extracting the recommended fee.

Apparently other people are more resistant to that, though, because one of the reasons the Met cites for raising the recommended price is that, in this bad economy, visitors have been paying less at the door. Government funding for institutions like the Met has also been flagging (although government grants don't make up a huge portion of its revenue, about 8 percent in 2009). But it's unfortunate that at the same time that people might have more free time to visit museums, the museums can least afford to accommodate them, especially since there's a correlation [between cultural activities and both health and happiness](

I'm actually happy to pay to access culture, but I can imagine some much smarter ways for a museum like the Met to ask me to chip in. I'd be interested in buying a pass that let me replicate my Smithsonian experience, when I could enjoy the museums' collections without feeling like I had to see everything because I'd shelled out a bunch of cash. It'd be great if the museum offered something in between a one-time recommended admission fee and an $100 unlimited membership—maybe a $50 pass that allowed a certain number of visits or a $25 pass that allowed a visitor to access the museum for a certain number of hours.

Or I could just choose to take advantage of the Smithsonian system from afar: [the 2012 budget request ]( $500,000 for digitizing collections in order to make them accessible to non-DC dwellers like me.