Ever since the Art Gallery of Ontario reopened its doors in November, its free Wednesday nights have been a big hit. The cultural access initiative has been a popular smash (gallery users line up in droves for the evening and crowd the museum’s spaces with a palpable enthusiasm) and a media slam-dunk (Toronto’s other big renovated museum, the Royal Ontario Museum, did away with their free Fridays upon reopening and came off more elitist as a result).
But as of this month, free Wednesday nights at the AGO come with some fine print and potential fees attached. Its new blockbuster exhibition “Surreal Things,” which opened May 9, charges for entry each and every day, including Wednesday nights.
The admission fee for “Surreal Things” is, at least, discounted on Wednesday nights. According to AGO publicist Antonietta Mirabelli, the discount “is about thirty percent.” This means that on Wednesdays adults pay $12.50 for “Surreal Things” versus $18 during the week, seniors pay $10.50 rather than $15, and students pay $7 versus $10. The value pack for families who want to see “Surreal Things” costs $30 on Wednesday nights, instead of $45. Museum passes obtained through the library’s popular Museum and Arts Pass program cannot be used for “Surreal Things,” only for the permanent collection. (At press time, this information about Wednesday night fees for “Surreal Things” was not yet up on the AGO website. Mirabelli says she expects it to be up soon.)
While it’s true that many other museums charge for special exhibitions on their “open access” days, one wonders if the AGO’s discount couldn’t be a little more generous. At the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, special exhibitions are fifty percent off for adults on Wednesday nights, going from a regular fee of $15 to a discounted admission of $7.50. At the Museum of Modern Art, special exhibitions are free on Friday nights along with general admission to the permanent collection.
While the AGO is at least trying (some museums, like the National Gallery of Canada, charge full price for special exhibitions on their “free” evening, and other museums, as pointed out above, have done away with free access altogether), it’s worth considering how many of these types of fine-print fees Torontonians will have to expect in the future—even with the $18 million the AGO recently received from the province.