Responding to a stagnant economic climate for cultural institutions, the National Building Museum announced Tuesday that it will begin charging for exhibitions.
The museum, which opened in 1985 as a grand space for exhibitions and seminars on the building trades, architecture and design, has only charged once before — for the extremely popular show, “LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition,” currently at the museum.
Beginning June 27, the museum will charge $8 for adults and $5 for visitors under 17 and over 65 and students. The museum has designated a $3 fee for its hands-on gallery for children two to six.
The fee applies only to exhibits and will not charge for admission to the ceremonial hall, the shop and cafe.
The new policy was made because of significant revenue losses and the realization that the general funding picture was changing, said Chase W. Rynd, the museum’s executive director.
“For the long term, the way the world operates has changed. We are not going back to the way we lived five years ago. We had to find new ways to operate in a new environment,” Rynd said.
Admissions, he said, will help stabilize a short-term issue of funding reductions.
Earlier this year the museum, like many local groups, was notified that Congress was cutting the National Capital Art and Culture Affairs program. This fund gave local organizations support that a state would normally distribute, was cut by Congress. The building museum had received $369,000 in 2010 but was reduced to $105,000 in fiscal 2011.
“That was a huge cut for us. Here is where the problem lies. We learned about the cut half way through the fiscal year. We had spent the last two years cutting, cutting to be as lean and mean as we can be,” Rynd said.
In addition, the building industry represented an important sector of support for the museum. “The building industry has been very badly impacted by the recession. They were not in a position to be as generous as in the past,” Rynd said.
The museum receives 25 percent of its annual budget from rentals for its historic space. This year’s budget is $8 million. Rynd said the rentals and income from the shop were steady. In 2010 423,000 people came into the museum.
Military personnel and their families are free until Labor Day. Museum members will continue to receive free admission and the three family festivals will be free.
Though Washington is unique for the number of free museums--most notably the federally-funded Smithsonian museums--several popular places do charge admission.