SHOULD YOU PAY FOR ASTRONOMY? --------------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc firstname.lastname@example.org www.nyskies.org 2012 June 24
Introduction ---------- All thru the life of NYC Events, www.nyskies.org/nyc.htm, I get comments about including items that carry a fee. Why are these in an astronomy calendar when astronomy is supposed to be free? I should list only free events, not promote those that collect money for their astronomy services. I dismiss these comments on the simple grounds that astronomy in New York enjoys parity with other cultural activities, being a mix of free and pay events. Plays, dances, music, lectures, exhibits, demos, workshops, movies are offered thruout the NYSkies territory in all subjects as both pay and free activities. I leave it to the reader of NYC Events to choose the events to attend, be they free or pay. In 2009, when NYSkies became an element in the World Science Festival, a new chorus of 'no fee, stay free!' rose up. Certain Festival shows charged admission while others were free. In NYC Events and other NYSkies promotion of the Festival I noted pare mente all of the events, pay and free. The comments continued in each year since then up to the 2012 running of World Science Festival. It seemed not to matter that NYSkies was part of the science street fair, a completely free activity to enjoy by simply walking into Washington Square and stopping at the booths, including NYSkies.
New York ------ It is likely that the argument over pay and free astronomy is more vigorous in New York than else where. The City is endowed with a deep and wide culture of astronomy, reaching back into the 19th century. Thru all of this time we enjoyed the bontitde of astronomy at all levels of costs. The choice was always ours to select among the free and pay astronomy. There are weird anomalies. At the American Museum of Natural History there are a mix of both free and pay astronomy lectures and exhibits. On certain evenings the Museum charges, in 2012, $15 for a one-hour lecture. This charge includes Museum admission. On certain other evenings the Amateur Astronomers Association -- in the very same Museum -- offers a two-hour lecture for utterly no charge at all. The Museum admission is bypassed but once inside the facility you have free range to see all of its exhibits before going to the lecture. Some attendees arrive eraly to do just that. In an other example at the Museum, you can visit the 'Beyond planet Earth' exhibit, running thru 12 August 2012, for $17. This is a combined ticket for general admission and the fee for the exhibit. On certain days, like July 10th in 2012, the exhibit is FREE and includes a guided tour for it! TheMuaeum admission is skipped but you do have to sign up in advance. In this instance the free show has the extra explainer missed from the pay one! Sometimes the same or similar presentations are offered in different places, one pay and one free. A few years ago the play 'Galileo' about the Jupiter spaceprobe was offered at a theater near Madiosn Square for, if I recall rightly, $15. In the same or adjacent month it was offered at the CUNY Graduate Center for no charge at all. It was the very same play, same actors, visuals, and props. I can see how an astronomy pinching his dime can ask, 'Why pay for astronomy when I can get it for free?'. I must remind that the situation described here is very peculiar to New York. I often see people pick up NYC Events at a convention, page thru it, and weep.
Venus transit ----------- 2012 June 5 was the second of the current pair of Venus transits. Astronomy centers thruout NYSkies turf staged viewing sessions for it, emphasizing that this is the utterly last chance anyone living today will have to witness this phaenomenon. Most were free, an extension of the center's other free skyviewing sessions. But a few collected an admission to enter the premises where the Venus viewing was staged. A new round of complaint rang around the astronomy world. The transit should be completely free for the public to witness! I passed up these cries and listed all the events in the June 2012 NYC Events, PazMiniBits, SpaceWalk, and in a special takeawy at the World Science Festival. The reader can pick which viewing to attend. In one comment I got, one viewing site, Intrepid Museum, was accused of some kind of competition against other free viewings. Intrepid charged $5 to enter its pier, where telescopes were set up for the transit. Never the mind that the normal Intrepid admission is $24. The rock-bottom fee of $5 was posted because the very ship itself was closed for work associated with mounting Shuttle Enterprise onto it later in the week. I let this argument fizzle out by itself.
American Museum ------------- Other comments railed against the American Museum of Natural History for charging its regular admission to a Venus transit show. It was more than just the high amount, $12 (altho stricta mente this is voluntary) that angered the complainers. The Museum show offered NO ATTEMPT TO VIEW VENUS IN THE SKY! The Museum show was films and telecasts of the transit as seen from far off Hawaii. Was this a cruel joke on the visitors, who likely believed the Museum had some special equipment for seeing Venus over the City? Such velief could come from the Museum's show a few days earlier to watch the Manhattan Stonehenge sunset. After a for-pay talk in the Planetarium, the audience wa taken outside to see the Sun setin line with a certain street. As a balance I must note that in the Musuem campus on June 5th late afternoon there was no spot for a clear view of the transit. The area of sky around the Sun and Venus is blocked by buildings and trees. It would also be impractical to stage viewing from inside the glass box of the Planetarium for similar reason. Some conplainants noted that other public viewings were staged on street corners, where the Sun did set in open sky. The transit was only a few days after the aStonehange sunset and alignment of sunset with the streets was still close. The complaints noted that the content of the Museum show was nothing more than what any astronomy club could present, and do so as a supplement or fallback with realtime viewing. People at the Museum were cooped up indoors, regardless of the weather outside, to watch 'fake' transits! Adding more irriation to the complainers was the free public viewing in a nearbt park only a kilometer from the Museum, The sudience could have been directed to there in time for realtime transit vewing.
Simmons Center ------------ There was a bizarre Venus transit event that at first really takes the cake. Complaint about it was probably well deserved. I left it out of the June 2012 NYC Events for being just too ridiculous. The SImmins Center, part of SUNY Stony Brook, Long Island, held a Venus celebration at an outdoor cafe' near its campus. Its broadside issued in mid May 2012 promoted an emperor's dinner in the open air with local wines in honor of the transit. This affair cost, hold your hat, $55. I DON"Y MAKE THIS STUFF UP!. What did the visitors get for this $55? The Roman meal, yes. And that's it. There was NO TALK, FILM, WEBSITE SHOW, SKIT, DEMO, RESOURCE PERSON, OTHER EFFORT to explain the transit that occurred over the dinner plates! But, wait! At the last moment before the transit, perhaps in evening of June 4th?, SImmons issued a new broadside. This one, with a different design, now slanted the event as a VIEWING IF THE TRABSIT with the dinner. It noted 'telescopes and solar shades will be provided'. Becuase this announcement came so very late there was no chance to include it in NYSkies publicity of transit events. It missed thr Seminar of June 1st and World Science Festival of June 3rd.
Peculiar anomaly ---------------- For this example I have to leave out names because the parties concerned are already making up and getting themselfs in order again. One outfit offered free Venus viewing for the public, which did work out well in spite of clouds. To prepare its crew for the show it held a meeting a few days before the transit. The presentation was for the outfit's members. To attend this meeting, the group CHARGED AN ADMISSION FEE!. Did I get complaints about that, even tho NYSkies had utterly no relation or part in this particular event. It seemed, from the accounts, that the group wanted to recover the rental cost of the meeting room. Off-hand this would be a reasonable purpose but the complaints were still vigorous. Why didn't the group itself pay for the room? Why didn't it ask a benefactor for the rent? In fairness this meeting also was a workshop to construct a Sun cone, to project the Sun's image during the transit. The materials for the cone were sold to attendees in a kit for $25. This was optional just for those who wanted to build the device. Those passing it up maybe had solar viewing devices already. I heard no specific gripes about this, probably because there was an obvious and visible cause for the fee. As I noted, the parties in this incident were already settling the dispute before I composed this article. I give the incident here as a wrinkle on the pay-or-free issue. The public saw the transit for free but the group's crew paid to prepare for it.
Why a fee at all? --------------- The straight answer is that it is the discretion of the event host to charge a fee. It may be the regular admission with the transit as an extra treat, like the American Museum. It may be a lesser amount like for the Intrepid because the main hall was closed. The discretion COULD have been to let the Venus visitors in for free, as once in a while the Museum does for certain events. There could be legal or policy considerations that may require a fee for visitors. The Venus transit could not be an exception. With no prior transit in living memory, in the whole 20th century!, modern policy formulations could hardly consider such a unusual contingency. There is absolutely NO stipulation among astronomers or a recommendation or suggestion in the astronomy community for free-only public events. Arguments that there is some practice of offering astronomy only without charge are completely false. So why are so many astronomy events, even professional ones,free? Discretion is one reason. The host simply wanted visitors to receive their astronomy without paying for it. An other is that the estimated collection from fees was covered by other funds within the host or by donations or grants. A college may allocate money for public astronomy events as part of its budget process. Home astronomy clubs typicly offer only free events. Once in a while there is a fee, like for the Venus viewing at Jones Beach, Long Island. The Beach opened a pavilion for the transit but had to cover the extra cost thru an entry fee. Sometimes there is obvious extra cost, like refreshments or souvenirs, that bumped up the cost of an otherwise free event.
Reasonable amount --------------- How much is a reasonable fee? There just is no standard. The reader has to assess the fee against other options and demands for his time and effort to acquire astronomy in and around New York. NYC Events gives the 'rack rate' fee, the adult entry fee for the basic show, If there is a range, like for particular seats, I give that range. If there are options above the basic rate, I note that, too. A particular reader may qualify for discounts as may be offered by the host. The American Museum gives free entry to its own members. Yes, membership is, in 2012. $95 per year for the lowest level, but a few visits to the Museum quickly recupe that amount. You do have to first join up for Museum membership for the upfront amount per year. The visitor may qualify for disability, senior, student, companion rates, if these are available. An other prospect is a multi-show purchase. The set of tickets costs less than buying each ticket separately. World Science Festival offers this option, which saves, in 2012, about 25% from the separate costs of the tickets. One powerful method to keep astronomy costs down is to exploit the City's astronomy culture. With so many offerings each month, you can horse-trade among them, doing a mixture of pay events with free ones. The net cost for all your astronomy could be only a few dollars.
Subsidies ------- Many employers give their workers subsidies, reimbursement, patbacks, forcertain quality-of-life features.These could be utility costs, transportation, parking, food shopping. What is available is entirely up to the employer with no stipulated base level of benefit. SInging up for these can push your finances into the realm where you can release the squeeze on your dime to do good astronomy. One of the more fabulous subsides in New York is the payment, in whole or part, for transit carfare. In this scheme, paid by Uncle Sam thru your employer, you get extra money for using public transit! This amountsto up to, as at Jaunaury 2012, $125 per month. Becuase using transit avoids lumninous graffiti from driving your car and adding to a car-culture, darksky advocates drool over the chance to pocket this free moeny each and every month. The payment is avoided cost. You have to pay for transit but now you do so from Unlce Sam's pocket. The loosed up money in your own pocket is yours to spend on astronomy activities. The amount is harly trivial! Assuming a modest $60 per month, at the discretion of the employer, this is a hefty $720 per year! I know you have designs for that pot of gold for your astronomy, yes?
Beyond astronomy -------------- With so much activity in New York there are sure to be instances of comparable events offered at different fees. It's up to the you to choose which to take. The offhand usual strategy is to try for the lower cost ones. The differing levels of fee occur not only in astronomy but in other fields of interst and pursuit in the City. One example occurs in August 2012. With expansion of the High Line in the works, now that the final segment was acquired by the City to add at the north end, there will be talks about the park. There are two talks, slated to for the August 2012 NYC Events, both seem identical, presented by the same speakers and having the same title, 'The High Line, the inside story of New York City's park in the sky'. It is staged on August 13th at the Center fo Architecture with a $10 admission. The Center usualy charges for seated events, but offers open-floor exhibits for free. On the 23rd the apparently idnetical talk is givenat Mid-Manhattan Library for free! Is there some fishy business here? No way! Each venue has its own method of operating and has its own discretion to assess admission. The one may be binded by policy or rule to charge or not charge, while the other has the opposite constraint. To say that the Center is goosing the guests $10 for a talk they can wait ten days to hear for free is really not a proper judgement.
Stacked fees ---------- I mean here a fee that is assembled from several options, usually ticked on an registration form. The usual situation is a starparty with camping, lodging, meals, assorted extra activities. An other is a convention or conference with tours or workshops. NYC Events lists the base adult 'registration fee' and notes there are optional extras. I know that some of the options are pretty much necessary, like the fee for a camping site if there is no mod-cons at the starparty site. That's up to the guest to work out. The note alerts him to the prospect of allotting more money for the event to make a proper attendance. He inquires at the event contact for further information.
Other costs --------- In addition to the price to attend the very astronomy event, even if there is none, you must consider other costs associated with doing the event. Unless the event is across he street from you, you must travel to it. You may pay for carfare, transport tickets, car gasoline and tolls, taxis. These may be trivial, like an extra ride thru a farecard, or substantial, like an airline ticket. If the event calls for overnighting, you may suffer lodging costs. Often you arrive a day or two earlier than the start of the eventto settle in and do some sightseeing or shopping. You may then have extra nights of lodging to consider. The lodging charge covers not only the very room rate! Virtually every lodging rate has hefty local taxes added to it. This, easily 10% or more in total, you must ask about when you book the room. During the event you may pay for meals, subsistence, incidentials. If not minded these can build up to a nasty expense. A gage can be the out-of-pocket expense for your usual goings about at home for each day. Then add some for special activities like book browsing. Where the overnight is in camping or tenting you may have to purchase the proper gear or repair what you already have.
Conclusion -------- Very simple. If your astronomy event charges a fee, NYSkies must know about it in your notice. If there is a range of fees, please say so. We will not stand for a misleading statement that admission is free, and we find later that a visitor did get into the facility for free but had to buy a ticket inside for the event. There is no purpose, business, social or financial or otherwise, to hide a fee that is collected from visitors. As long as the sponsor is above board in stating the fees, it's in the clear with NYSkies.