Changes coming to IMA? Director says no

(WTHR photo)
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You no longer have to pay to get into the Indianapolis Museum of Art, haven't for a few years. But could you soon have to pay to access other areas of the IMA property?

Some are concerned that may soon happen, even though the museum's director says there are no such plans in the works.

Wednesday, workers were setting up for Saturday's Penrod Arts Fair on the lush grounds of the IMA. If you buy your tickets in advance, they're $15; day of, $20. The rest of the year, getting into the park and its historic award-winning gardens is free but for how long?

Several IMA staffers told Eyewitness News museum leaders want to charge admission to its grounds, much like other major gardens across the country do, in part to help maintain them, which is costly.

When asked about it, IMA Director Charles Venable said, "That is not true. The board has not taken up that subject, there has not been a presentation on charging admission, we have not discussed that at all. Now will that be discussed in the future? No doubt."

Venable said the museum is working to increase membership. During the last couple of years, it doubled to 10,000 but he said that's still very low and that it should run 20,000-30,000. He said the museum was also looking to add programming and improve the "audience experience," especially across the 26-acre park, which includes the Lilly house and the IMA greenhouse.

He said, "There's no reason we can't go from a display, estate garden to a botanical garden if we want to and can raise the money. We are really hoping to invest in our grounds and gardens quite dramatically over the next decade."

But should the museum decide to charge admission to the grounds, as staffers insist it will, the IMA will likely face some pushback as it did when it briefly charged admission to the museum a few years ago, and later for parking.

Bonnie DeLong, among those strolling the grounds Wednesday, said she's brought her three children to the gardens a handful of times and would be less likely to come if they had to pay to get in.

"Right now, it feels like a place you can run over to and visit for an hour or two and not worry about the admission price," DeLong said. "If it costs to come here, you'd have to plan to take more time and we wouldn't do it as often."

Garrett Roach and Margaret Kaster were also out walking the grounds.

Roach, who just graduated from Butler, said, "If they charged me to run through, it would be sad because I like to run through the garden, come up the stairs and take the paths. It's just so pretty... but I'd probably take a detour or take Michigan Road more."

Kaster said, "It makes sense financially if they need help. If it were $5, I'd still come; if it were $20, probably not."

Greg Pitzer said, "I'd probably not be here if they charged. Nature should be free."

While Venable said there were no plans to charge now, he and his staff were looking at best practices "across the museum landscape and botanical garden landscape" as they prepare their next year's budget and strategic plan.

He said, "The thing we're spending the most time looking at is how do you get visitors to the park to come in the front door of the museum? And if they go to the gardens, what's the most expeditious way to get them here?"