No more free admission for college students at the Philadelphia Art Museum

Updated 2:25 p.m.

When Jameela Wahlgren went to the Art Museum last weekend, she assumed she would get in for free. She’s been going free of charge for years, as long as she’s been an art student.

But she was mistaken. The museum charged her $14 for entry.

“I showed my student ID at Temple University, which has always gotten me in,” Wahlgren said, “and the person behind the counter really regretfully told us that the museum had in July, decided to change its policy.”

The Philadelphia Museum of Art confirmed the change to Billy Penn. It went into effect July 1, according to a spokesperson.

The renowned institution made the decision to scrap the policy allowing local art students in for free — which had been in place for more than 40 years — in the name of equity, it said in a provided statement.

That reasoning was laid out in a letter sent to local colleges and universities earlier this summer.

In the letter, which was published by Temple’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture, PMA claimed that the influx of schools in Philadelphia awarding art and art history degrees put the gratis admission policy in a tight spot. Historically, the program was only offered to eight schools — and expanding it to lots more wasn’t financially viable, the letter said.

So instead, the museum decided to discontinue the freebies and replace them with a discounted student price. The thinking was essentially: If not everyone can get in for free, no one can get in for free.

Kari Scott, assistant director of student life at Tyler, said the announcement did not get a lot of buzz when the school first heard about it. That’s partly because of the time of year, she thinks.

“It didn’t get much traction here mostly because it hit in the summer when all of the faculty are off doing their summer research projects,” Scott wrote in an email. “I think it will start hitting them next week as they come back.”

Releasing the news during summer vacation — when schools and students are savoring their time apart — also means that most students have not yet heard about the change. Scott said Tyler will notify students in its August 18 newsletter.

The policy change was decided by “a cross-disciplinary team of senior leaders, including Executive leadership,” according to the museum, which this list of schools affected by the change:

  • Art Institute of Philadelphia (before the school closed in 2018)
  • Community College of Philadelphia
  • Drexel University (art students only)
  • Moore College of Art & Design
  • Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
  • Philadelphia University (now part of Thomas Jefferson University)
  • Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University
  • University of the Arts
  • University of Pennsylvania (art students only)

PMA also noted that art students aren’t the only ones who want to go to museums.

“We recognize that visual culture is integrated into many disciplines today, not only art and art history,” said the museum’s statement. “We are leveling the playing field so students of all majors and disciplines can benefit from equal access to the museum.”

The museum will still allow grade school students from the local area in for free, it said. It usually welcomes around 60,000 to 80,000 K-12 students a year.

The change leaves a lot of unresolved logistics issues. For one, Tyler requires that students visit the PMA as part of their coursework.

“All of the intro level art history classes are required to visit Philadelphia Museum of Art,” Wahlgren said. “So I’ve been twice now with my class and we got in for free because of our student IDs.”

Tyler’s Scott isn’t sure how it will shake out for the colleges. She’s been in communication with other art schools, like Moore College, University of the Arts, and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, she said, and they were all working to see if the PMA would reconsider its decision. She does not know if those efforts have been successful.

In an attempt to mitigate problems caused by the shift, the museum is offering discounted memberships to students. Instead of $40 a year, students can pay $20 if they sign up in October or during College Fest.

PMA also invites students (and everyone else) to take advantage of “Pay what you wish” events, which happen every Wednesday evening and first Sunday of the month.

Wahlgren said she’d come to rely on the free entry.

“It’s been [free for art students] as far as I can remember. And that’s how all of my friends go to the PMA. None of us have money lying around for the regular price of admission,” she said.

To Wahlgren, getting rid of free student admission represents how art institutions are approaching the issue of access.

“There’s so much going on in our world right now that discourages young people and impoverished [people] from experiencing the arts,” Wahlgren said. “It feels the wrong time to be making this decision.”