Primary File

Tacoma Art Museum: Will Less Be More?

Paula A. Wilson, Cameron Fellows
May 1, 2015
North America
Strategy & General Management, Accounting & Finance
15 pages
Not-for-profit, not-for-profit management, not-for-profit accounting, managerial accounting, Accounting
Student Price: 
$4.00 (€3.7)
Average rating: 

The Tacoma Art Museum was a regional, mid-sized museum in Western Washington dedicated to collecting and exhibiting Northwest art. The Museum’s leadership had worked hard toward achieving its vision as a national model for regional museums. Elements of the vision included engaging, inspiring, and building community through art. Recently, the Director and the Deputy Director of Finance discussed whether to offer free admission to all visitors all the time. The Director supported the idea of free admission, as she believed it would increase the number of visitors in total and from targeted underrepresented groups. However, the Deputy Director expressed concern over the financial impact of free admission. The decision would require using money from the endowment to cover the lost revenue. The Director and Deputy Director had less than one week to sort through the issues, reach agreement, and to prepare their case for presentation to the Board of Trustees.

Learning Outcomes: 

The outcomes of this case are:

  1. Identify the strategy of a not-for-profit arts organization and describe how it differs from the strategy of a for-profit company.
  2. Identify three-to-four major stakeholder groups of a not-for-profit arts organization and indicate how they contribute to the organization’s success.
  3. Compare and contrast major financial statements of a not-for-profit organization (balance sheets and statements of activities) with similar financial statements of a for-profit company (balance sheets and income statements).
  4. Compare and contrast the statements of activities of a not-for-profit arts organization used by management to the statements of activities prepared for external users.
  5. Examine the potential positive and negative financial and non-financial impacts of offering free admission.
  6. Propose and defend a decision to offer free admission from the perspective of the Director, who is responsible for executing the organization’s key strategies.



I appreciated experiencing analysis of this case review in our critical issues of leadership class at the doctoral level.  The case involved several interesting and relevant issues, particularly to my experience as a leader in the not for profit world.  We also experienced break out discussions on its relationship to inclusion, attachment and relationships in leadership.  It was a rich and compelling discussion


I taught this case in a doctoral level class focused on critical issues in leadership. The students had been focused on: attachment, inclusion and relationships as it relates to leadership. After a 20 minute general discussion the students worked in their groups to determine how leadership could come to consensus on the decision but through the lens of their critical issue. The discussion was lively and because the decision point was seemingly relatively straightforward it allowed a great deal of creativity in their approach. It was a wonderful case to switch gears from our focus on research to application of theory.