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New Fees for the MFAH's Free Lecture Series

Members of the Museum of Fine Arts were in for a bit of a surprise when they received their September member guide in the mail. The museum, which regularly hosts multiple free talks throughout the month, will be charging for some of these lectures beginning this fall.

Lectures are a staple of the museum's regular monthly programming. The lectures range over a variety of topics pertaining to art and culture, often from a scholarly perspective. Previously, such lectures were offered free to museum members and included in the price of the museum's regular entry fee for non-members. Beginning with September's lecture, "The Ideal City: Florence in Perspective," on September 7, a seat will set members back five dollars, and eight, plus the cost of admission, for non-members.

The decision to charge the nominal fee for these talks is a way to offset the budget, says Mary Haus, Director of Marketing and Communications for the MFAH. These lectures have been free for years and years and have often brought in big-name speakers and scholars to the Houston community.

"To continue to sustain and grow the programs," Haus comments, will require a bit more support. The museum, like every nonprofit, has to face fiscal realities.

Not all of the museum's lectures will require patrons to purchase a ticket, however. The museum will look to balance the free versus the fee. Many of the museum's established programs are already annually funded or endowed, and those will continue to be free.

"The annual Shartle Symposium, funded by Brown Foundation, which is one of the museum's most significant forums," Haus notes, will continue to be a free event. "This year (November 10), the symposium explores themes addressed in the upcoming exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath." Additionally, Haus points out that members will still have free admission to its Friday-evening exhibition previews.

So what do members think of these new fees? Longtime MFAH member John Eymann was slightly shocked by the new charges, but says it certainly won't make him cancel his membership. The fee may stop him from going to as many lectures, though.

"Before, I would attend as many as I could, regardless of the topic, " Eymann states. "Now I'll be looking for topics that I really want to learn something about." Eymann also sees that this could be an overall positive thing for the lecture series. "Also, I think it will bring people out who will share your enthusiasm for the topic."

Haus hopes that the small fee doesn't leave any bad tastes in the mouths of the members, knowing that biting the hand that feeds is never any institution's intention. Haus mentions that the museum's members are its lifeblood. She hopes that they will continue to support the institution and see this as a way to expand the programs they have come to enjoy for themselves and the community.

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Abby Koenig
Contact: Abby Koenig