'Pay what you will' program at Esplanade a success

By Jessie Weisner
May 2, 2019 - 4:47pm Updated: May 2, 2019 - 7:11pm


MEDICINE HAT, AB -- The Esplanade is a favourite place in Medicine Hat, attracting locals to attend shows, eat lunch and admire art in the gallery.

Now, its more accessible for everyone.

It’s recently brought in the ‘Pay What You Will’ program, allowing attendees to do pay whatever they want for certain shows.

“Our goal really was to increase our attendance, increase our accessibility within the community,” says Trampas Brown, superintendent of operations and programming for community development for the City of Medicine Hat.

The program was initially introduced in September 2018, and applied to select shows. It proved a huge success.

“We did three shows this season, two of them have already happened, our attendance numbers were up on both of them,” says Brown. “We were pleasantly surprised at the amount people paid.”

Brown says one show increased its attendance from 190 to roughly 450.

“One of the shows that we brought in, Norman Foot who we had in October, we had him about three years ago, we doubled the attendance to his show.”

The gallery was inspired to throw out their seven dollar admission to try out the initiative until September.

“It worked for the theatre and it was a really novel interesting idea so we decided to try a pilot project here in the galleries,” says Joanne Marion, director/curator of exhibitions and collections at the Esplanade.

It’s now been on since April 6, and it’s having a similar reaction.

“We’ve seen an increase in visitors,” says Marion. “We’ve seen an increase in revenue so people are happy with their experiences I guess and letting us know through what they leave.”

When attending the gallery, visitors are given an envelope. When they’re done viewing, they put it in a box with whatever amount of money they choose.

The goal is to allow visitors to take risks and come more often, something the father of one family attending the gallery says has been achieved.

“Sometimes you want to come for an extended visit and spend more time in the gallery and sometimes you just want to come for a quick visit or sometimes you’re here to see one of the particular exhibits, one of the roving galleries,” he says. “It’s nice to be offered the opportunity to contribute more or less and you can stay more or less time then as well.”

Multiple new exhibitions will be announced this summer. The gallery is depending on high attendance in order to continue the ‘pay what you will’ program.

“We’ll just look at the numbers,” says Marion. “We’ll look at the feedback and we’ll decide whether its something we want to carry on with.”

As for the ‘pay what you will’ theatre shows, those are here to stay.

Brown says four new ones will be coming in the 2019-2020 season.

“I’ve got four pay what you will shows coming up next season,” says Brown. “Two family shows and two shows that are a little more adult focused, they’re great pieces that I’m really excited to tell everyone about.”

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