Art Gallery of Alberta waives fees for children and students to boost visitor numbers

After pitching a free-access strategy for years, the Art Gallery of Alberta is waiving fees for children and students in an effort to pull in more visitors

After getting $250,000 from Edmonton city council, the gallery is embarking on a free-access strategy

The gallery is embarking on a free-access strategy for students and children in an effort to boost visitor numbers (CBC)

The Art Gallery of Alberta is waiving admission fees for children under the age of 18 and students in an effort to drive up visitor numbers.

The AGA has experienced rising operating costs since it opened in 2010.

The gallery hosted 108,000 visitors in its first year, but it's averaged little more than 50,000 people annually since.

"It's about more than just free access for children. It's really about engaging a new generation into art and understanding what art is," said Darcy Trufyn, the AGA's board chair. "We just think this is a fantastic investment."

The AGA received $250,000 in Edmonton city council's 2017 budget to cover the cost of a free-access strategy.

Last year 23,000 people attended the AGA on special free-admission days.

"The money we got from the city is really helping to offset some of the losses we'll sustain and really it's about finding a new path, a new future and perhaps a different sustainable model for revenue," said Trufyn.

"We want to measure what the impact is of free admission for students. What does that do for families? How does that incent families to come? We'll be collecting that data and we've got a couple years to do that."
Darcy Trufyn, the Art Gallery of Alberta's board chair, says fees were a barrier for some families who wanted to visit the gallery. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

More changes coming

Cassandra Williamson, 16, visited the gallery on Tuesday for free. She's on the gallery's youth council and says that before she joined she had not visited because her family couldn't afford it.

"Now that it's free, I'm hoping to bring them," she said. "They'd love it."

"A lot of people don't come to the art gallery, especially low-income youth. They feel like it's some far off place for individuals with access to money, and it's a privilege, but now it's open to all."

Tayyaba Halid, 14, hopes free admission will encourage more of her friends to give the art gallery a shot.

"Even though they might not be interested when they come, all of sudden they're like, 'This is actually pretty cool.' It's nice to share my interest with them," said Halid.

The AGA is expected to announce more changes to admissions within the next couple of months.