People crowding into the Louvre museum in Paris to catch a glimpse of Mona Lisa.

Guia Besana/The New York Times/Redux

Mobbed Museums

Should museums limit visitors to their galleries?

Each year, more and more people are visiting the world’s major art museums. In 2013 alone, 9.3 million people poured into the Louvre Museum in Paris. Crowds are good news for ticket sales. But some people argue that museums should limit the number of people allowed to come through their doors.

Overcrowding can be uncomfortable for visitors. It also puts fragile artworks at risk, because accidents occur more often in crowded galleries. In recent years, visitors have broken the extended fingers of an ancient Roman statue in the British Museum several times. At the Detroit Institute of Arts, a child stuck a wad of gum onto a painting worth more than $1.5 million. 

Others argue that museums shouldn’t turn people away. They say it would be unfair to prevent anyone from seeing the world’s cultural treasures. By placing a limit on the number of visitors allowed, museums could also face huge financial losses. 

Some museums have taken steps to address overcrowding, extending viewing hours or selling timed tickets. But these solutions create new problems. Extended hours mean higher operating costs. And timed tickets, especially for popular exhibitions, have led to scalping. During a 2011 exhibit about Leonardo da Vinci at London’s National Gallery, websites resold $25 timed tickets for as much as $400. 

The Vatican Museums in Rome are among those that have adopted a timed-ticket policy. But museum officials are conflicted about the policy. “Attendance should not be allowed to increase,” Vatican Museums director Antonio Paolucci explained, “but the Sistine Chapel has a symbolic, religious value . . . and we can’t set a cap.”

What do you think? Should museums place a limit on the number of visitors they allow into their galleries?

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