Students Get In Free at the MFA

Students Get In Free at the MFA

Caleb Nelson

Free access to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is back for undergraduate students at UMB, aftera good bit of haggling and budget shifting between the art department and Student Activities to fund an art museum membership this year. The access may be back, but frayed nerves caused by the process are just beginning to heal.

This summer the Student Arts and Events Council (SAEC) didn’t pay the $10,000 yearly membership to the MFA because didn’t they feel like students were getting enough bang-for-their-buck. “The MFA wouldn’t tell us how many [UMB] students were going,” said Chuck Henriques, the Student Activities Program Coordinator. “It kind of felt like, here you go [shoving motion, money implied], and there was no way of knowing if anyone was using the MFA.”

UMB has had an MFA membership for years, but students outside of the art department have only recently started taking advantage of it.

“The MFA coughed up some numbers after UMB cancelled,” Henriques said.

According to MFA statistics, the number of UMB student visits to the museum rose steadily over the past few years. Last year 2272 students visited, up from 1700 students the year before, and 1600 the year before that. But Henriques said he’s not sure how the museum came up with those numbers.

“Students tell me they just show their ID to the guard, so there’s no real system,” he said. “Also the feeling at SAEC was that we were funding an academic program.”

Much of the outrage in the art department over UMB’s lost MFA membership was because art students need to go to the MFA weekly for their classes. Visits to the museum cost $15 without a membership.

“I was really pissed off, really pissed cause I need to go there weekly for my class. I think [SAEC] could find some money to support something that every UMass student has a chance to do,” said Frank Bowman, who’s taking his second art class at UMB this semester.

Most opinions on how SAEC spends student money are based on unverifiable information. But art students are adamant that student access to the MFA is important to everybody’s academic experience.

“If [SAEC] just canceled the henna stand and a few of the craft booths for a few weeks they could probably pay for [the MFA membership],” said Bowman. [Neither the craft booths nor the henna stand are SAEC initiatives-ed]

Once the MFA provided figures showing the number of students visiting the MFA each year to SAEC, budget priorities began to play a roll in the debate about funding the membership.

Dr. Paul Tucker, an art professor at UMB who served as guest curator for several exhibits at the MFA, played a large role in negotiating with Vice Chancellor Patrick Day and other administrators to get SAEC to foot the MFA membership bill.

“I wasn’t around when the whole thing started showing fissures, but I think it was really a matter of where the money was coming from. The question was should it be paid for with Academics money or student activities money,” Tucker said.

Because of UMB’s growing student population, another problem was that the MFA wanted to raise their yearly membership fee. Tucker used some of his connections to get UMB students a discount based on the number of students actually going to the museum.

“Fees are generally based on the number of students at an institution. But we’ve got such a diverse student body with other obligations, and not everyone has time to go. So we were able to work out a compromise on the rate,” said Tucker.

It was a three-way tug of war, with administrators in the middle wanting both the SAEC and the art department to win. Ultimately the UMB Provost and VC Day had the two groups split the bill. Now the Academics budget pays for half of the membership, and SAEC pays for the other.

“I’m glad the Provost and SAEC could come to an agreement on where the money should come from,” SAEC coordinator Henriques said.

Despite having to navigate budget deficits, everyone is glad to have the whole thing figured out, and hopes that it won’t be an issue again next year.

“The MFA is one of the top ten institutions in the country so it’s really a great institution for our students to have access to. And especially since we’re a public institute it’s important for us to offer this as well,” Tucker said.