Would You Pay to Visit the Smithsonian?

What's New — By Melanie Renzulli on April 18, 2011 at 10:37 am
Detail of Star Spangled Banner in the Smithsonian's Museum of American History

Detail of Star Spangled Banner in the Smithsonian's Museum of American History

One of the greatest things about Washington, DC, as a tourist destination is that admission to the Smithsonian is free. A collection of art, science, and culture museums housing some of the nation’s priceless treasures including the Hope Diamond, the Star Spangled Banner, and (soon) the Space Shuttle Discovery, the Smithsonian is about 70 percent funded by the federal government (via tax dollars) and 30 percent funded by contributions from corporations and the public. This fiscal arrangement allows for free admission to all visitors 364 days a year (the museums are closed only on Christmas Day, December 25).

In the recent budget battle in Congress, the Fiscal Commission, a bipartisan group created by President Obama to find ways to balance the budget, suggested that the Smithsonian museums consider charging a fee of $7.50 per adult to partially offset the budget shortfall. According to the full report (pdf):

Reduce funding to the Smithsonian and the National Park Service and allow the programsto offset the reduction through fees. The Smithsonian’s budget is projected to approach $1 billion in 2015. This option reduces net spending by charging a fee to Smithsonian. There were about 30 million visitors to the 19 Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo in 2009. Under this option, $225 million, or less than a quarter of the Smithsonian’s 2015 budget, would be paid for by charging visitors fees. Notable private museums across the United States tend to charge anywhere from $10 to $20 per visitor, with lower rates for children and seniors. World class zoos in the United States charge more, or closer to $20 or $25 per visitor. Raising $225 million in fees would average about $7.50 per visitor.

This proposal was number 30 among 58 proposals to reduce the national debt, and there’s currently no plan to to institute a fee at the Smithsonian museums. But what do you think? Would you pay to visit the Smithsonian Museums? Would an admission fee to Washington’s most beloved tourist attractions cause you to think twice about Washington, DC, as a travel destination? Comments are welcome below.

Image courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Tags: budget travel, Smithsonian, Smithsonian museums


  • jeannie says:

    I have not been to the Smithsonian museum since grade school. I’d love to go and visit. Paying $7.50 isn’t a lot compared with other private museums but even they offer free admission once a week or once a month through corporate sponsorship. That’s when I go, on the free days. Or, I have bought an annual membership.

    Would I pay $7.50 to go to the Smithsonian? Yes, but only if there was something specific I wanted to see. In general, I think it should stay free so as to make it accessible to everyone.

  • Melanie Renzulli says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jeannie! I agree with you. I think the Smithsonian should stay free and I think if Congress proposes to fix the budget with Smithsonian admission, there will be an uproar (at least among Washingtonians like me!).


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