I work in a museum. Often when people ask what I do for work I love to mention that I work at the Lyman Allyn. I want people to know this place exists! Although, there’s always a tiny part of me that feels like that person may as well be hearing, “I work at a really snooty place, period, that’s all you need to know because it’s probably too good for you anyways.”
But it’s not a snooty place! I want you to know that whatever we have on view is meant to be accessible to everybody.
Admission fees shouldn’t determine whether or not you can walk through our front doors. In fact, a lot of museums in the United States are free to the public. For example, if you visit Washington D.C., all of the Smithsonian institutions are always free and open everyday of the year except on Christmas. The admission fee we charge at the Lyman Allyn doesn’t mean we’re greedy and want all of your money. Like a lot of museums we’re a non-profit organization. A lot of what gets collected financially will help us to fund the costs to run this building, care and maintenance of the objects in our collection, to allow us to provide programs for children and special events related to the current exhibitions, to pay for applications for grants, to order office supplies, and to pay the small amount of staff members who work hard and tirelessly to organize and plan everything that happens within these walls.
If you feel that our admission fee is still problematic, you have options! With a little planning and preparation you can visit for free. Museums may hold an occasional “free night” or “free day” promotion. My museum has a “Free First Saturday” where we provide free admission on the first Saturday of the month. Also, find out if your local library holds passes to local museums and attractions which will cover a portion or all of the admission cost. Some museums offer reciprocal admission to other area museums if you’re a member with that museum.
For a yearly fee there are museum associations such as the North American Reciprocal Museums or American Alliance of Museums where you are granted free admission to a large group of museums affiliated with that organization. If you travel often, this is a great thing to have because you’ll be able to enjoy the museums in the areas you visit at no extra cost.
If the museum doesn’t tout the really priceless van Goghs / Picassos / Monets / Renoirs / Kahlos / Warhols, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth seeing. The permanent collection at the Lyman Allyn aims to present artwork and objects that were created by those who have worked and/or lived in Connecticut or New England. Much of the objects were made or owned by prominent people from this state’s history. While a museum may have a niche that makes it unique among other museums, it may also present temporary shows that encompass a variety of subjects and themes. Without being strictly about one thing, you might see traveling exhibitions and accompanying events/activities that cater to different ages and interests. About ten year ago when I was vacationing in Tampa, Florida, there was a Bodies at one of the local museums. A year later I saw that the same exhibit moved it’s way north to a New York City museum.
You can bring the kids. Adding to what I just mentioned about there being exhibits for every interest, there are exhibits and programs geared towards kids. I know a lot of museums are populated by the older peeps, and some of them prefer a quiet stroll through the galleries, but kids can behave too. New Yorkers do it all the time. Shoot, I brought my kid to the Yale Center for British Art and there’s nothing there that would really engage my kid’s mind but I created activities for him to participate in while we walked around. How many horses do you see in this gallery? What do you think that child is doing in this painting? Do you like this sculpture; and what do you like about it? If you see a painting with boats in it, sing a sea chantey. Get creative!
I hope this post motivates you to take a trip to your local museum at least once this year. I have such a huge passion for the arts organizations in my community. I think places like local museums and hearing music groups live are ways that one can stimulate their local economy and experience some culture in return for a small fee. Now, get out there!