As I've been out and about in the last week, people've been asking me whether Seattle Art Museum is in a major crisis, given the cuts it made last week and the fact that modern and contemporary curator Michael Darling (creator of Target Practice and Kurt, among other contributions) is leaving come July.

No, SAM is not in a major crisis.

And furthermore, as far as I know, SAM has not done anything wrong.

Take that last point first: SAM could not have known that the gigantic bank paying it $5.8 million in rent every single year would disintegrate into nothing. SAM's business plan did not fail by being unrealistic, the world failed by becoming unlike reality as it had been known before. The fact that adjustments are necessary is not surprising, and not SAM's fault. And keep in mind: SAM made the $1 million in internal cuts, and board members paid another $1 million, in order to make up a revenue gap of $2 million in next year's $24 million budget. Considering that Nordstrom is going to be renting only 75 percent of WaMu's space, and probably at lower rates (the lease agreement is private), SAM (with a little help from Chase) has been doing a pretty good job managing what could have become a crisis. Director Derrick Cartwright, from all indications, appears to be a born leader, an art scholar, and an effective business manager. When the house falls down, blame the architect, not the renter.

That's an important thing to know about SAM if you are a donor. Just because SAM is making cuts does not mean it behaved irresponsibly and recklessly, or that giving money to SAM means throwing it down a hole. In an interview after he made the cuts, Cartwright mentioned that some donors are staying away until the museum can balance its budget, as if SAM needs to prove it is trustworthy. But SAM didn't violate anyone's trust, and doesn't have anything to prove.

And SAM has certain things to be very proud of. Notably, this is a museum that has free admission, meaning it really is a civic service, like a library. Yes, suggested admission is $15. But it is only suggested. All the time. You never have to pay ANYTHING to get into Seattle Art Museum.

What's more, all three of SAM's venues—the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, and Olympic Sculpture Park—are free. And this summer, SAM finally has some great stuff planned for the sculpture park.

Here's where I'd like to address the leadership at SAM: As you contemplate how to alter your business model to weather this economy, do not change your admissions policy. Stay free. It sounds counterintuitive, but charging for admission won't solve your problem and it will create new ones. Museums make almost no money from admissions—and yet are held accountable by funders if attendance is down (as it has been at SAM).

Consider the argument Christopher Knight makes in his piece in yesterday's LA Times about what Jeffrey Deitch should do down at MOCA. Knight has two suggestions for MOCA: Extend your hours so that the museum is open later in the evenings to match the real rhythms of the city, and make your admission free.

SAM already has free admission. And it's already open late (until 9 pm) on both Thursdays and Fridays.

As SAM looks for solutions to the problems caused by extraordinary circumstances, it should recognize that its admissions policies and its extended hours are its strengths, not its weaknesses. Donors and trustees should recognize that, too.