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Arts and Culture

How a ‘Free’ Museum Turned Into a Piggy Bank

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Posted on Sep 11, 2012
Photo by fvancini (CC-BY)

Oil tycoon J. Paul Getty wanted his museum, one of the richest around, to be free to the public, but the people who run the institution’s two locations in Los Angeles have found a clever way to profit from more than a million annual visitors.

While admission remains free, the cost of parking continues to go up. The Getty charges $15 at both of its remotely located museums. Whether you’re looking to visit the compound-like Getty Center in the hills above Brentwood or the Getty Villa nestled in the bluffs across from the Pacific Ocean, you have little choice but to pay.

LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick looked at the Getty’s tax filings, did the math and determined that most of the parking windfall ends up in the pockets of the people who run the museum.

LA Observed:

That’s an impressive number: $6.4 million in parking revenue, more than the annual income of many, many non-profits in Los Angeles. For those who are chagrined by the unofficial admission fee, the plot thickens when they look deeper into the 990 forms. They show the parking income in tax year 2009 was just $4,707,447. That year the Getty bumped the parking charge up to $15, saying it was necessary to keep the museum financially healthy. About 200 positions were also eliminated. By 2011, the last year for which the Getty has filed, the parking revenue had swelled to $6.4 million. So the parking fee hike, and any increase in visits, brought in an extra $1,774,200 a year.

Those same 990 forms also show that between 2009 and last year, the amount paid in compensation to officers, directors and trustees also swelled — from $2,301,872 (in ‘09) to $4,062,574 (in ‘11.) That’s a net increase in high-level salaries of $1,760,702 for the year.

Using what Bill Clinton calls arithmetic, that suggests all but $16,502 of the increased parking revenues went for compensation to the highest officers at the Getty. Nice to know, if you’re just an art lover who wants to visit one of the richest-endowed museums in the world.

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—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer. Follow him on Twitter: @peesch.


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