LA County Board of Supervisors raises admission to three popular museums

Want to see dinosaur bones or wooly mammoths stuck in gooey tar? Or butterflies of dazzling colors flitting about in a netted pavilion?

These and many other displays of nature’s wonders past and present are available to experience at three Los Angeles County science museums. But starting July 1, you will have to pay 20% more for a general admission ticket to nature on display.

Brian Brown, entomologist at the LA County Natural History Museum, looks in on a monarch butterfly in the butterfly pavilion at the museum Wednesday, June 1, 2022. Studies show there is a major comeback of the monarch butterflies in western United States. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Louis Dubuque, of Austin, Texas, takes his granddaughter Larrabee Williams, 10, of Santa Monica, to the La Brea Tar Pits Museum’s interactive and hands-on Mammoths and Mastodons exhibit in Los Angeles on Wednesday, December 19, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

Children check out the Columbian mammoth in La Brea Tar Pits Museum’s new interactive and hands-on Mammoths and Mastodons exhibit in Los Angeles on Wednesday, December 19, 2018. Admission to the Tar Pits, George Page Museum and the Museum of Natural History is scheduled to go up. But the increase must be approved by the Board of Supervisors. A vote is expected on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)



On Tuesday, May 23, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to raise the admission prices at the county’s Natural History Museum (NHM) located in Exposition Park; the La Brea Tar Pits and George C. Page Museum in Hancock Park.

The Board also increased the price of the popular Junior Lifeguard Program.

Adult general admission tickets to each museum will jump from $15 per person to $18. The reduced rates for seniors, students and youth, ages 13 to 17, will rise from $12 to $14. Tickets for children 3 to 12 are $7.

After experiencing closures during 2020 and parts of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, museum revenues dropped. But in 2022 and this year, the museums are seeing an influx of visitors and school groups, and that means greater costs for staffing, exhibit upkeep and maintenance.

L.A. County Supervisors Hilda Solis, Janice Hahn, Lindsey Horvath and Kathryn Barger approved the county museums’ price hikes. Supervisor Holly Mitchell was absent. Some of the supervisors felt the museum administration should pursue other ways to close a combined $1 million operating deficit.

The added revenue will bring in between $900,000 and $1.1 million to close the deficit. Extra revenues will help pay for labor costs from recent wage increases, to offset free and reduced price admissions, and to enable expansion of engagement at county libraries, parks and schools. The Natural History Museum anticipates completing a welcome center and a commons available to the public without paid admission. These improvements also add to operating costs.

Because school field trips are free, the museums have attracted more schools, surpassing pre-pandemic levels. About one-half of its visitors do not pay admission. In addition to school kids on field trips, admission is free to school teachers, veterans and active military. All L.A. County residents are admitted without charge Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The free admission visitors have squeezed the three museums’ budgets, according to a letter written to the Board of Supervisors by Lori Bettison-Varga, president and director of the museums.

While Supervisor Solis acknowledged the importance of science and art for underprivileged youth, she said many students can’t reach these museums in the afternoon when it’s free.

“I see you are having to raise some of the fees but I don’t think it is a sustainable model,” Solis said, adding that the museums should do more private fundraising.

County government watcher Eric Previn, speaking at the Board of Supervisors meeting, said other museums, such as the George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art opening in 2025 in Exposition Park, are free. The two Getty museums in Los Angeles are also free.

“The idea of charging any money is anathema to me,” he said.

Bettison-Varga said her administration has secured grants to fund many museum programs, including two recent grants from the state of California. A third grant of $500,000 will be used to launch a third mobile museum in the fall, she said.

“We are not decreasing access, especially for students who want to experience the museum but can’t afford it,” said Supervisor Barger. “The doors are still open to those who can’t afford to pay.”

Supervisor Horvath said many museums are experiencing structural deficits as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns. Attendance was down by nearly 40% in 2021 at many of the nation’s museums, according to the American Alliance of Museums.

“To support these cultural landmarks, it is reasonable to raise admission rates for the first time in six years,” Horvath said. The last rate hike at the three museums took place in 2017.

In addition to raising museum ticket prices, the supervisors raised the cost of the Junior Lifeguard Program, run by the Consolidated Fire Protection District of Los Angeles County. It will cost $50 more, rising from $585 to $635. The increase will start this summer.

The Junior Lifeguard Program goes back 60 years. Each four-week session teaches beach safety and physical fitness to children ages 9-17. Many go on to become lifeguards. Los Angeles County Fire Chief Anthony Marrone said it was the most popular program in the department.

The extra revenue will go to staff salary increases and the rising cost of equipment and overhead, he wrote in a letter to the board. Scholarships are available for those who qualify.

Supervisor Hahn voted against the increase. “I think it is too high,” she said. Hahn said to close a $200,000 deficit, the fire department and the fire protection district should ask for additional funds from the L.A. County Fire Department Foundation.

Related links

Admission to LA County ‘nature’ museums is set for a 20 percent hike
LA County $43B draft budget adopted: forecast is cloudy, with economic storms
On brink of extinction, monarch butterfly numbers increase for second year
Monarch butterflies are emerging despite global warming, drought and wildfires
New Natural History Museum exhibit goes deep to explore ‘LA Underwater’


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