John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 2012 June 24
    All thru the life of NYC Events,, 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 
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. 
    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. 
    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.