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Downtown LA's Broad Museum to begin charging admission to some exhibits

by Kevin Ferguson | Off-Ramp

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The Broad opened to the public for the first time on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

When the Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles opened in September, admission was free for all. Thousands of visitors reserved their free tickets months in advance while others gathered in huge crowds to wait for same day reservations.

Starting June 11, though, if you want to see the entire Broad Museum, it will cost you $12. That’s when the museum’s first exhibit, Cindy Sherman’s "Imitation of Life", goes on display in the first floor gallery until Oct. 2.

General admission to the museum’s permanent collection on the third floor will remain free, along with the Instagram-favorite "Infinity Mirror Room" by Yayoi Kusama.

As far back as 2013, the Broad Museum has advertised “free general admission” on its website and news releases. Joanne Heyler, the Broad’s director, told the L.A. Times that a paid exhibit like Sherman’s was always in the works.

“Our model from the beginning was free general admission with paid tickets for special exhibitions and programs,” she said in an interview last month. 

But billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, the museum’s founder and namesake, was quoted widely saying that the museum would be free, including on KPCC’s "Take Two," and didn’t provide a distinction between special exhibits and its permanent collection.

“We’re going to offer free admission to the public to this museum,” said Broad. “So, it's only us and the Getty that offers free admission.” Broad added the museum planned to offer free admission to visitors "indefinitely."

The Getty Museum offers free admission to both of its locations, including special exhibits. Both museums charge for parking.

The Broad wouldn’t be the first L.A. museum to charge visitors for special exhibits — the L.A. County Museum of Art does it, most recently asking visitors to shell out an extra $10 for its hugely popular "Rain Room" installation.

In an emailed statement, a representative from the Broad Foundation said the fee would be used to pay for a special curator, commissioned and loaned work and installation. On its website, the Broad says the Cindy Sherman exhibit draws primarily from the museum’s own collection.

"It did strike me as weird to some degree because we all know that the Broad has made it a real point of pride that they’re offering free admission to the L.A. community and beyond," said Jori Finkel, arts writer for the New York Times. "We knew that they were going to be having free general admission before they could even give us in the press an opening date. So it’s kind of built into the very constitution of its museum: that it’s free, and open to the public. "

Built on government-owned land, the Broad is the latest addition in an effort to revitalize downtown L.A.'s sleepy Grand Avenue corridor. Like many civic institutions, the Broad benefitted from government incentives — the museum leased the land it was built on for just under $6,500 a month for 99 years.

The Cindy Sherman exhibit will be free for children 18 and under. The Broad hasn't announced plans for any future special exhibitions, nor has it determined what — if anything — it would charge for admission.

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