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Admission fees rise at Ringling

SARASOTA — The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art board of directors announced Thursday that admission will increase July 1.

The museum faces a $1.7 million budget cut next year under the umbrella of Florida State University, which needs to trim $56.6 million from its annual budget for lack of state aid. This week, the school has also asked the museum to become financially self-supporting in three years.

During the meeting, the board approved a motion to form a committee to investigate ways self-sufficiency can be achieved.

“Hopefully, all that we have done to this point will help in the next three years,” said board member Barbara Siemer.

New rates will rise from $20 to $25 for adults, $17 to $20 for senior and groups, $7 to $10 for children and active military. Membership rates will rise from $50 to $75 for basic; $75 to $100 for associate members and $150 to $200 for contributors.

Those who already have memberships with the museum can renew at the current rates until July 2010. Memberships revenue is currently up by 4 percent.

Even if attendance falls, the Ringling will still be able to make more money from the higher prices, Siemer said.

Ringling has also reduced programs, trimmed staff and shifted staffing expenses from the university to the museum. In all, expenses have been down 13 percent this year, according to financial figures. Gifts and grants have risen 54 percent and the museum has made a small profit of $100,000 for the year, Siemer said.

But board members are still pushing for stronger fundraising efforts.

Other future plans call for a partnership with FSU to establish a museum studies program on the Ringling campus. The program will generate more state aid that will fund the program and in turn, benefit the museum, Chip Willis, chief operations official, said after Thursday’s meeting. The target date for the program is 2011.

During the meeting, the downturn of the economy was a hot topic among board members and FSU staff. John Wetenhall, museum executive director, reminded the board how far Ringling has come since FSU took over operations in 2000.

“I think it is really important for us to stop to think about not what we’ve lost but what we won,” he said.

Those winning achievements include renovating and constructing various building on the museum grounds, including the Historic Asolo Theater, the Ca d’Zan and the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center.

They are elements that have and will continue to help propel revenue for Ringling for years to come, Wetenhall said.

In other news, Ringling will expand the Tibbals Learning Center by 20,000 square feet. The estimated $6 million project — already paid for through Howard Tibbals and matching funds — will be for exhibition use and storage for Tibbals’ expansive circus memorabilia.

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.

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