The 9/11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center has just dropped some bad news: Not only will it charge admission, but the price point has also been set at $24. A family of four would have to shell out almost $100 to visit, which means the museum is betting on people being swayed more by patriotic obligation than any rational calculus about what they will get out of the experience.
At $24 per person, the new museum will be in the same league as the Museum of Modern Art ($25) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (suggested admission of $25). That’s some stiff competition for an institution that has a very focused subject: the terrorist attacks of 1993 and 2001. People who simply want to pay their respects and remember the tragedy will probably be inclined to do so in ways that don’t include paying to enter the museum. The nearby memorial is free.
It’s also a bit worrying from a museum-design perspective: To make the experience attractive, there is a built-in dynamic to make it entertaining. We don’t know how that will play out, but the chances are now higher that the complicated balance between educational depth and emotional appeal will skew toward the latter.
The museum — which noted in the same news release that it “does not yet receive government support for ongoing operations as many other important museums of our national history do” — is set to open this spring. It will be near the wonderfully evocative memorial designed by architect Michael Arad, which opened in time for the 10th-anniversary commemoration in 2011. The museum’s pavilion is designed by the Oslo-based architects of Snohetta, one of the most dynamic and adventurous firms working today. Beneath the pavilion is a 110,000-square-foot space, designed by Davis Brody Bond, that will include “displays, archives, narratives and a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts,” according to the museum Web site.
But it seems a bit odd to charge for a museum dedicated to one of the most collectively felt, widely experienced and emotionally connected experiences of the 21st century. It just doesn’t feel right that someone has put a price tag — a high one, at that — on a museum charged with interpreting one of the few genuinely national traumas of our time.