BEYOND THE HEADLINES: The fine art of fees

To charge or not to charge, that is the question at the Vernon Public Art Gallery

To charge or not to charge, that is the question.

Faced with the annual request from the Vernon Public Art Gallery for a larger taxpayer subsidy, some Greater Vernon Advisory Committee members suggested the gallery charge a firm admission fee.

“At $2 a pop, they could bring in $14,000 (based on 7,185 visitations),” said director Mike Macnabb.

GVAC will provide the gallery with a $179,401 operating grant in 2015. That’s  one per cent more than $177,625 last year but far less than the 3.5 per cent hike or $6,375 VPAG sought.

Currently, entry into the gallery is by donation but, like anything in life, unless you are forced to hand over a few bucks, you likely won’t.

“They are not doing anything to reduce the cost (to GVAC),” said Macnabb of a lost revenue source.

Based on 2012 figures, 59 per cent of the gallery’s revenue came from GVAC while 23 per cent was from other grants and 18 per cent was from in-house sources such as fundraising and donations.

That compares to nine per cent of the Okanagan Science Centre’s operating revenue coming from GVAC, 29 per cent from other grants and 63 per cent from sources generated on its own. Admission at the science centre is $4 for youth ages three to 18, $4 for adults and $16 for a family up to six people.

And a quick survey of other cultural endeavours indicates an entry fee is common.

Admission at the Penticton Art Gallery is $2 for adults and free for children and students (it’s free for everyone on weekends) while in Kamloops, it’s $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors and $10 for a family (free on Thursdays for everyone through corporate sponsorship).

Salmon Arm’s gallery is by donation.

When I stopped by the Kelowna Art Gallery about two years ago, I was immediately asked for $5 to wander around (it’s $4 for seniors and students and free for the public Thursdays).

Despite Macnabb’s protests, Vernon Public Art Gallery officials aren’t enthusiastic about charging a fee at the door.

“Charging a fee in our current location is a short-sighted solution,” said Dauna Kennedy Grant, executive director.

“A new facility and location will give us the flexibility to  look at alternate admission formulas, but until that goal is realized, GVAC must try and understand more clearly some of the challenges we face in operating out of our current space in the parkade.”

And one can understand the reluctance to charge a set fee when you’re just happy someone found the gallery in the less-than-inspiring parkade and made their way through space that was never intended to highlight works of art. Perhaps there is the thought that a soft, donation-only approach will appeal to those on fixed incomes or aren’t common visitors to a gallery.

However, the reality is there are expenses to run such amenities — utilities, staff, etc. Most taxpayers don’t likely mind providing a subsidy as long as costs are reasonable, they believe they are benefitting from a service and the hand isn’t out all of the time.

An entry fee could bolster demands for a new gallery by demonstrating to GVAC directors that people are walking through the door and supporting the arts. Perhaps a portion of the admission could go towards construction costs, further lessening the burden on taxpayers who will be asked to borrow capital funds in a referendum.

Now if you believe this argument is directed just towards the VPAG, keep in mind that other organizations, like the Greater Vernon Museum, are by donation only while coveting taxpayer grants.

Obviously some people won’t want to part with a toonie to go and look at paintings or historical artifacts, but what did they pay for a coffee today?