The Harvard Art Museums are now free to all visitors. The museums’ announcement, released Friday, June 23, stated that the intentions are for this to be a permanent change.
“It's our invitation for people to come,” said Harvard Art Museums Director Martha Tedeschi. “There's no right or wrong way for them to use this museum. We just want people to know that they're welcome.”
For Tedeschi, this new policy has been on her mind since she arrived at Harvard in July 2016, and she expressed her hopes to Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow during their first meeting.
Many university-affiliated museums offer free admission to visitors, despite the often costly upkeep of museums such as staffing, preservation and collection insurance. It took the Harvard Art Museums several years to secure the funding to make the financial model work. Tedeschi cites Bacow as a “persuasive voice” who aided the museums in building an endowment in his final months in office before retiring at the end of June. The endowment includes a donation from the Estate of David Rockefeller and will cover costs that were previously paid for by revenue from admission fees.
“Art is for everyone, and the Harvard Art Museums will now be free to all visitors,” said Bacow in the press release. “This initiative ensures that every visitor to our campus will now have the opportunity to view and engage with the phenomenal collections in our care at the Harvard Art Museums.”
This announcement comes after the museum recently introduced several free and discounted programs. “When we reopened after the pandemic, we felt we had to kind of reopen with something big that would really invite people back in a way that would make a difference,” said Tedeschi. In September 2021, the museums announced free admissions on Sundays, one of its busiest days of the week, according to Tedeschi. In 2022, the museums began offering a monthly free program on Thursday evenings.
Tedeschi expressed hopes to expand programming to accommodate larger and more diverse audiences as well as introduce new membership benefits. Tedeshi didn’t provide details for these future plans, but said they will be “looking to work with our patrons and our members in a different way and create different kinds of access.”
Tedeschi noted that the primary goal of offering free entry is expanding accessibility. “We are seeing that lowering that barrier of admission has made a difference [in reaching the Greater Boston community]. And we're looking forward to just eliminating that completely so that our local audience increasingly begins to just feel this is a place for them,” she continued. “We've been practicing this now for about a year and a half, and we know how it changes us, so we're excited.”
Current exhibitions include “Into the Light,” which features American watercolors spanning 1880 to 1990, and “From the Andes to the Caribbean: American Art from the Spanish Empire.” The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.