Thursday, March 17, 2016

Museum expert Victor Danilov says some museums too expensive for families

Museum expert Victor Danilov says one of his proudest achievements as director and president of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is that he kept it free during his 15 years at the museum.
After he left in 1987, the museum instituted an admission fee and hasn’t looked back since.
“The thing that shocks me these days is what it costs to go to a museum,” Danilov told me by phone Monday. “We’re talking about $15 or $20 to go to a museum. One thing that I’m especially proud of doing over the years: when I was the director for 12 of the 15 years (at the Museum of Science and Industry), and my predecessor was also proud, that he never had to charge admission to the museum. And I continued that until I retired.”
Danilov wanted to make the museum experience open to as many people as possible.
“I had almost 4 million people attending the museum free (each year) and as soon as I retired they applied an admission fee to help cover the expenses and now it’s $15 to go to see that museum. And the attendance is a million and a half as opposed to 4 million. So it dropped off that much mainly because of the admission.”
Actually, entry to the museum is now $18 for adults and $11 for children ages 3-11. But the price can go much higher if you add in special exhibits and activities.
The admission fees are keeping more families with children from visiting the museum.
“When they started charging admission, they started slowly at $5 and gradually it ran up to $15,” Danilov said. “Some museums charge even more than that these days. They need the money but there ought to be some other way of raising the money besides charging families these big numbers, particularly if they have children to take. It can cost them $50 just to get into the museum.”
Danilov, 91, is retired and living in Evanston, Illinois. He is the author of 28 non-fiction books and more than half of them are on museums. His last book was “Famous Americans: A Directory of Museums, Historic Sites, and Memorials” (2013).
Danilov is a leading figure in the museum world. He was the founder and director of the Museum Management Program at the University of Colorado from 1988 to 2003. He holds degrees from Pennsylvania State University, Northwestern University, and University of Colorado, and has been an officer in national and international museum organizations.
He is a life trustee on the board of trustees at the Museum of Science and Industry.
He got into the museum business through a fortunate turn of events.
“I was a journalist originally,” Danilov said. “I was a reporter and rewrite (person) for the Chicago Daily News ... and out of that I did some other jobs. I taught journalism at several universities and was the editor of a number of science magazines.”
He was working for a publication on industrial research and technology when he was hired to work in 1972 with the then-president of the museum.
“I had no experience with museums before that except as a visitor. But I sort of got a short course in a year or two,” he said.
Danilov became part of the science museum movement and helped other groups start their own museums.

Photos: Covers of two Victor Danilov museum books.

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