Free Admissions Help Arts Organizations Build New Audiences. Not Really.

Ariel Stolier

Ariel Stolier is Producing Director of Paseo La Plaza (, a leading performing arts center in Buenos Aires, Argentina and a Director at Grupo La Plaza.  More than 650,000 people attend its productions every year at 4 theaters, 6 alternative spaces and on tour. Previously he held artistic and management roles in the United States at Theater Communications Group and at Manhattan Theater Group, amongst others. He holds a degree in Public Relations and Communications from UADE University and received a Fulbright/National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship to pursue graduate training in Arts Management in the United States. He is a professor at the Masters Programme in Cultural and Creative Administration at UBA/Universidad de Buenos Aires, and a visiting lecturer at UNC/Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. He is also Editorial Director of ACC / Administración Cultura Creatividad (, an academic magazine devoted to covering the arts management sector in Latin America, published by Universidad de Buenos Aires.

doi: 10.18278/aia.2.2.37

A recurring debate within the cultural wars between politicians, taxpayers, creative producers, and artistic community concerns what constitutes a fair price of admission. Should the access to the arts be determined and subsidized by the public sector or the producers and artists themselves? The definition of fairness provokes multiple interpretations as price and value are easily conflated.

Many performing arts organizations use low-cost or free admission as a strategy to introduce new programming, maximize attendance, and expand their audience base. This approach interprets price as an obstacle for the consumption of arts. Some argue for nominal or free ticket prices because taxpayers already support the cultural sector through direct subsidies, philanthropic grants, and tax exemption. However, the development, production, and distribution of the arts are subject to ever-rising costs, which makes maintaining financial viability a difficult task.   

Although we may assume that free admission levels the field by allowing anyone to participate in the arts, the question remains whether or not this strategy unfairly limits the economic potential of our artistic endeavours. I believe low or no cost admission does not stymie this potential because producing arts creates value from its social relevancy that should have primacy in any consideration of pricing.

Cultural organizations’ experimentation with alternative strategies, such as dynamic pricing using sophisticated analytics to determine demand, bring opportunities for income growth by reducing unused capacity. However, the instability in dynamic pricing could generate distrust among consumers. But if used properly, dynamic pricing could translate to better incomes and more jobs for artists; this result depends on re-investing revenue into riskier art, which would ideally subsidize productions in poor economic climates. Yes, dynamic pricing could even allow for free admission to select programming billed as special opportunities; such marketing would increase value while decreasing price.

Great programming and creative promotion will help resolve conflicts over pricing by shifting focus from fixed sums to creating value and social relevance through art.