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RMAC trustees discuss museum admission fees

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Juno Ogle Photo The Board of Trustees for the Roswell Museum and Art Center discussed Monday implementing admission fees for the museum as a means of meeting a goal to generate more of its own revenue. No decisions were made in the virtual meeting.

The Board of Trustees of the Roswell Museum and Art Center discussed possible entrance fees Monday afternoon, ultimately deciding to table a vote until next month.

Any decisions Monday by the board would not have been considered until July by the city of Roswell’s General Services Committee, so the board decided to take more time in forming its plan to help the museum generate more revenue.

Should the General Services Committee approve a plan for admission fees next month, it would then go before the full City Council for approval.

The city of Roswell, facing a $34 million cut in its expenses for fiscal year 2021, has increased its goals for cost recovery on services. The draft of the 2021 budget sets a goal for enrichment services — specifically the museum, the zoo and golf course — to each generate 70% of their revenue.

Under the 2020 budget, the museum was targeted to generate about 18% of its revenue. Critics of the city’s planned budget have said that is too much of an increase for the museum to make in one year.

City Councilor Barry Foster, who attended part of the meeting, has said he will propose an amendment to the budget creating stepped percentage goals for the museum and the zoo.

Charging an admission fee — which the museum has never done in its 85-year history — as well as increasing memberships were two avenues to that goal the board discussed in its virtual meeting Monday. It was the first time the trustees had met in three months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Monday was not the first time an admission fee has been discussed, Caroline Brooks, executive director of the Museum and Art Center, and Foster both noted.

It has been discussed for two or three years, Brooks said, but was something that was more likely to come after a renovation of the museum. Plans discussed last fall in a General Services Committee meeting included relocating the store near the entrance and renovating the lobby.

“That would be more conducive for taking admission. Where it is right now, we can work with it, it’s just a little bit more of a challenge,” Brooks said.

The trustees discussed a proposal from the museum staff for a $10 admission fee with discounts and free offerings, but also discussed alternatives such as a $6 fee for everyone. Those taking classes at the museum, for which there are enrollment fees, would not pay the admission fee.

Cymantha Liakos, president of the board of trustees, acknowledged an entrance fee would require some adjustment from the public.

“No matter what, it’s going to be a shock to our community. This is all a shock to our community,” she said.

Several of the trustees expressed a dislike of implementing an admission fee but also recognized the need. They also emphasized the need to still offer free admission in some circumstances, such as for an opening of an exhibit, a special event, or free days for Roswell residents and older adults.

Brooks said out-of-town visitors are often surprised there is no admission fee for the museum and will leave a cash donation for what they expected to pay. She said the city is also exploring the idea of a “city pass” visitors could buy that would offer combined admission to the museum, zoo and other attractions.

Some thought $10 was too high but also saw its benefits.

“We could always come down from that. Maybe starting high is the better thing just to see where we stand, what people’s reactions are,” Trustee Valli West said.

Board Vice President Bill Siders noted two visits a year to the museum would be a “break-even” point for the cost of membership.

Membership at the museum is $35 for an individual, $60 for a family and $100 for an “enthusiast,” which includes membership in the North American Reciprocal Museum Association. That includes free admission and discounts to more than 1,000 museums across the country.

Building the membership will also be key to the museum reaching its revenue goal, Liakos said. The museum currently has 370 active members, a drop from 416 before the closure.

“We want to build that list. It makes sense if you’re going to come visit the museum for Roswell or county residents that you’re an actual member and then you don’t have to worry about the admission,” she said.

The trustees voted to reopen the Membership Working Group as a first step to a membership drive.

Brooks also informed the trustees that once the museum is allowed to reopen, it will have to cut its Sunday hours due to a decrease in staff.

The museum’s regular hours before the closure were 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

After the museum closed in March, its staff was reassigned to other areas of the city, but returned to the museum on May 26, Brooks said, and have been deep cleaning the building and caring for the collections.

Four staff members chose to take the city’s voluntary severance or retirement packages and a fifth position — the preparator, which was unfilled when the museum closed — was removed. That leaves the museum with a staff of 10.5 full-time equivalency positions, down from 15. The city currently has a hiring freeze in place.

“One of them was one of our front desk staff, so as a result, we no longer have enough staff to stay open six days a week,” Brooks said.

The other positions lost are the office assistant, a part-time store clerk, a custodian and the curator of education.

Trustee Anne Baker said the education curator is a big loss for the museum’s potential revenue generation.

“One of the reasons we were bringing in so much more money over the last few years is because of the additional educational programs that have been added,” she said.

Three years ago, Brooks said, the museum generated about $130,000 of its own revenue. The following year was $140,000 and last year was about $150,000.

In the proposed 2021 budget, the museum is projected to generate a little over $130,000 in revenue. Its expected expenses are just under $700,000.

Brooks said in the conversations throughout the last couple of years, an admission fee was estimated to bring in $50,000 a year.

The museum also generates revenue from facility rental, admission to the Goddard Planetarium, grants and contributions from the RMAC Foundation and others.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.