Nov 1, 2021

Free Admission

tall man in suit reaching towards large built in bookshelf

A letter from Director Kevin Sharp:

The Dixon has not charged anyone to enter the gardens or the museum since March 2020 and we may never again. At first, we were just trying to protect our public-facing employees in the early days of COVID from the unnecessary contact of a cash or credit card transaction, and it has thus far been effective. Then, free admission began to feel like something nice we were doing for our friends and neighbors here in Memphis, who seemed to need a place like the Dixon more and more with each soul-crushing day of the pandemic. We did not want the people who needed us to only have access if they happened to be in possession of seven disposable dollars. It is not a lot of money, I know. But there have been plenty of instances in my own life when I had to make serious choices about where and when to spend the last seven dollars in my own pocket. I very much preferred that no one would rule out a visit to the Dixon for that particular reason.

The Dixon has formally and officially expressed its commitment to being admission-free through 2023. We put it on a banner at the entrance to the Dixon but we will reevaluate the program when we begin to develop our 2024 budget. The Dixon will only bring back admission fees if we see a significant drop in our membership revenue. Protecting the income Dixon members generate for our annual operating budget is the only reason we have not eliminated admissions fees years ago.

Here’s the thing. Free admission is the benefit most Dixon members identify in surveys as the top reason they join. We take that information very seriously and I totally get it. Membership revenue is an important part of our funding model, generating about fifteen percent of our budget every single year. On the other hand, the income from paying visitors produces less than one percent of our annual operating funds. Given that we never charge admission to school groups, educators, first responders, patients and caregivers at St. Jude and other area hospitals, active-duty military personnel, and certainly not Dixon members, gate revenues are essentially a financial trifle.

Please consider three important things. First, there are lots of other benefits of Dixon membership besides free admission. Members receive discounts on everything, from event tickets to the café and shop, you are invited to at least one member-only opening every year, and probably more, and we mail The Leaf, our member magazine to homes or offices every quarter. Plus, Dixon membership entitles you to free admission at hundreds of other museums and public gardens across the country. Secondly, membership contribution creates access to the Dixon for someone else. It has always been the case, but it is even more true now that we are not charging admission fees. Members are kind of paying it forward and that is a really a nice feeling. Thirdly, when you become a member of the Dixon, you are joining something incredibly special.

Thanks for listening and please let me know if you have thoughts, questions, or concerns.

Kevin Sharp