Free Attendance Boosts Traffic at Detroit Institute of Arts

Attendance at the Detroit Institute of Arts more than tripled last week compared to the same five-day period in 2011 after it waived admission for residents of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Free access was granted after voters in the counties approved a property tax increase that will help support the museum. The property tax millage will cost homeowners about $20 a year on a house with a market value of $200,000 and is expected to funnel $23 million annually into DIA operations over ten years. While DIA anticipates a post-millage loss of nearly $4 million in annual revenue because of free attendance and a decrease of as much as 12 percent in memberships, higher attendance could bring in additional income from parking and food and gift shop sales. Meanwhile, DIA will work to build its $100 million endowment to about $400 million.

Between August 8 and 12, nearly eight thousand people visited the museum — up from twenty-six hundred the same week in 2011 — including some five thousand residents of the tri-county area. About two thousand of those visitors paid the general admission fee, while nine hundred others were admitted for free as members. In another example of a museum with free admission, the Baltimore Museum of Art, which eliminated admission fees in 2006, has averaged 43 percent more first-time visitors annually in the half dozen years since then.

DIA officials noted that the boost in attendance was not merely due to the free passes. Last year, there were no special exhibitions in August, while this year there are four. In addition, the increased media attention due to the property tax vote raised the visibility of the museum. "We were in the news a lot, and we were advertising at a rate that we rarely do," said DIA chief executive Annmarie Erickson. "Even though it was millage-related, it was all about the value of the DIA."

Mark Stryker. "Attendance More Than Triples at DIA After Millage." Detroit Free Press 08/15/2012.