An initiative to offer free admission until January at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has already resulted in over 2,000 more new visitors in the last month, with 22 per cent saying it’s their first time in the building.
The gallery is aiming to make art more accessible to visitors while making the space more inviting for all ages.
Colin Stinson, director of marketing and visitor experience, said the gallery is collecting data through visitor surveys to better understand the impact of free access and what the gallery can do further to increase accessibility.
“Art should and can be accessible to everyone because there’s no right or wrong way to take it in,” he said.
Decklan Rolle, a recent visitor agrees. He has been to the gallery three times in the last month after seeing the free admission announcement online.
“It being free is a really good opportunity to take people who haven’t been to the gallery.”
In addition to accessibility, the gallery also wants to break down the stigma around viewing art. Stinson highlighted how people don’t necessarily have to be knowledgeable about what they are looking at, they just simply need to be open-minded.
“What people need to understand is there’s no expectation walking in here. You don’t have to know anything about art.”
The pilot program offers Nova Scotia residents free admission, including out of province and international students.
“We’re seeing a huge increase in visitation from the age bracket of 18 to 39. We’re seeing our students coming through. It’s great to be able to break down that financial barrier. I know most students don’t have a lot of extra spending money. This is a perfect place for them to come and sort of step away from studies,” said Stinson.
Rolle, 23, said he usually goes to the gallery once every couple months, when there is a new exhibition. However, since the free admission program he’s become a more frequent visitor. He said this created the opportunity for him to “just do something for (him)self.”
The target demographic for the gallery has traditionally been older adults and children under age nine with programming aimed towards these demographics. However, seeing the increased interest from young adults during the pilot program they are now looking to “grow that audience base.”
“We are looking at new ways to engage that group, through programming, through initiatives like free access, through promotion around date nights. It’s the perfect place to come to spend an hour before you go to dinner. And now it’s free. If you need to cut your budget and don’t know how to have an awesome date, this is a perfect spot,” said Stinson.
Rolle added, “it’s a good spot to get a feel for people and see what they like and what their interests are. It’s also a good spot to explore or just meet a person.”
The gallery’s future accessibility efforts may include creating new programs, continuing free access and introducing different languages. Stinson said free access is an easy and effective way to become more accessible.
“People shouldn’t have to choose whether they can pay their cellphone bill or visit the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia,” he said.
The gallery hopes for a longer-term free access or some form of increased free access.
“But all museums, and we’re no exception, rely on admission revenue for programming and exhibition. We just have to make sure and find new ways of generating revenue to offset costs,” said Stinson.
The gallery is featuring paintings from the collection of the Sobey family, including Canadian and Indigenous art, until Jan. 14.
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