National Gallery of Art:

Free Admission Policy and Special Exhibition Ticket Distribution Policies

GGD-99-61R: Published: Apr 1, 1999. Publicly Released: Apr 1, 1999.

Additional Materials:


Bernard L. Ungar
(202) 512-4232


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the free admission policy of the National Gallery of Art and its contract for the distribution of tickets for major exhibitions held at the Gallery.

GAO noted that: (1) the bases for the Gallery's free admission policy are: (a) the provisions of a joint resolution of Congress approved in 1937; and (b) the 1937 trust indenture agreement signed by the A. W. Mellon Education and Charitable Trust, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Gallery; (2) section 4(a) of House Joint Resolution 217 states that the National Gallery of Art shall be at all times properly maintained and the works of art contained therein shall be exhibited regularly to the general public free of charge; (3) on June 24, 1937, a trust indenture agreement stipulating the conditions of the Mellon donation was signed by the A. W. Mellon Education and Charitable Trust, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Gallery; (4) the agreement also provides that after the termination of the donor trust, the agreement could be altered, modified, or supplemented upon approval of three-fourths of the Gallery Trustees and Smithsonian Regents; (5) according to a Gallery Office of General Counsel official, the donor trust was terminated in 1980; (6) consequently, for the Gallery to charge an admission fee, two actions would have to occur: (a) Congress would have to amend the joint resolution to eliminate the prohibition on charging fees; and (b) the Gallery Trustees and Smithsonian Regents would have to agree to similar revisions to the Mellon indenture agreement; (7) if the restrictive provisions were removed, Congress could set the admission fee at any level it deemed appropriate, or it could allow the Gallery to set the fee; (8) according to information provided by the Gallery, TicketMaster (formerly the TicketCenter) has held the Gallery ticket distribution contract since 1991; (9) the Gallery official who negotiated the contracts told GAO that all the TicketMaster contracts have been sole source and, since July 1, 1992, have been at no cost to the Gallery; and (10) the decision to sole source was based upon the effective working relationship between the Gallery and TicketMaster and the understanding of the Gallery official that TicketMaster had a virtual monopoly with regard to major ticket distribution efforts throughout the country.

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