The Whitney Museum of American Art will offer free admission and special programming on certain days every month next year. Beginning January 12, the Meatpacking District art museum will drop its “pay-what-you-wish” system on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and on the second Sunday of every month. During those times, admission will be free for all visitors.
Free Fridays will feature special programming and music, with food and drinks available for purchase at the museum’s new restaurant, Frenchette Bakery at the Whitney.
Second Sundays will offer free all-day admission to visitors and special programming for families. On the second Sunday of every month, guests can enjoy all-ages arts & crafts activities, tours, classes, and other special events connected to exhibitions on view at the Whitney or significant community events like Earth Day or Pride Month.
The inaugural installment opens on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend and celebrates Black artists whose work is featured in the Whitney’s collections and current exhibitions, like “Henry Taylor: B Side.”
Other programs on view during the launch of both Free Fridays and Second Sundays include “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith, Inheritance, Ruth Asawa Through Line,” and “Natalie Ball: bilwi naats Ga’niipci.” Also on view will be the museum’s permanent collection exhibitions, featuring artists such as Edward Hopper, Kara Walker, Georgia O’Keeffe, Kevin Beasley, Faith Ringgold, Lee Krasner, Jasper Johns, Alexander Calder, Jacob Lawrence, Carrie Mae Weems, Andrea Carlson, and Clarissa Tossin.
According to Whitney officials, the “pay-what-you-wish” model has long confused visitors. While some interpret the term as meaning free, others are put off by the uncertainty connected to the phrasing.
“Pay-what-you-wish is not a phrase everybody understands,” Scott Rothkopf, director of the Whitney, told the New York Times. “It’s important to be straightforward and say we’re free for anyone, at any age, wherever you come from, during those times.”
The Whitney hopes free admission will make the museum more enticing to potential visitors and open the doors to a wider audience.
Tickets during the free admission periods must be reserved in advance.
Free Fridays are funded by three-year gifts from Whitney Trustees Jen Rubio, Stewart Butterfield, Paul Arnhold, and Wes Gordon. Second Sundays are made possible by a three-year grant from the Art Bridges Foundation’s Access for All program.
“We are thrilled to support the Whitney in bringing Free Friday Nights to life. I became a trustee at the Whitney because of the museum’s mission to challenge culture, to bring together diversity of perspective, to encourage questioning and reflection. Free Friday Nights will further that mission: opening the doors to an even larger audience, most importantly one that is younger and more diverse,” Jen Rubio said.
While the city’s museums have experienced a gradual return to their pre-pandemic audiences, visits by international tourists are still lagging. The Met claims that their attendance is roughly 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels for New York residents and national visitors, but at just slightly more than half for foreign tourists.
The Met used to have an entirely pay-what-you-wish admission model but began charging non-local museum-goers a mandatory admission fee in 2018 after seeing that fewer visitors were paying the recommended $25 admission price. The Met has since increased their prices for visitors from outside the state to $30.
Similarly, the MoMA increased its adult admission price to $30 from $25 in October. It also raised the prices for many other categories, including tickets for people 65 and older and students.