Lessons from the Bronx

By now you may be aware of the Bronx Museum of the Arts' new ticketing initiative. If not, take a look at the Museum's Facebook status from March 30th: "Starting today, the Bronx Museum of the Arts will be Free to all. Thursday through Sunday, FREE! First Fridays! FREE. Whether you're 8 or 88, FREE! Getting Here: B/D train to 167th St (Unlike the Museum, the train fare is not free)." In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the Museum announced just last month it would offer free admission to guests-- this coming at a time when student discounts, twofer deals, good coupons, and gas below $3.99/gallon are at a premium. According to Museum Director, Holly Block,

With our immediate community being the poorest per capita in the nation, and at a time when many are struggling to pay bills…we don't want anyone to have to use (admission costs) as excuse not to visit us.

It is because of a grant from the New York Community Trust that the museum is able to offer free admission to the public- though the grant only covers admission costs up to 15 months. The Museum is hoping to secure a more permanent funding source to be able to continue to provide free admission to the public after those 15 months.

Not only does this reduce barriers of entry for Bronx residents, New Yorkers, tourists, and artists, but it also benefits the museum community at large. Many museums have implemented similar free admission pilot programs and have reported varying results. It will be interesting to follow up with the Bronx Museum at the conclusion of the 15 month, free admission period to review its attendance numbers and demographics during that time.

While snooping around for more information on the Museum’s new pilot program, I stumbled upon two special offerings at the Museum. How did I NOT know about these programs?!

1) smARTpower: In conjunction with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, the Bronx Museum administers this cultural diplomacy program. The program funds and provides travel opportunities for 15 U.S. artists to create and work abroad on a community-based art project. smARTpower supports “the development and implementation of community-based art projects that engage youth and other local residents, including artists. The projects are strongly encouraged to create a tangible legacy of the work accomplished through smARTpower in a variety of visual arts media…” The program is open to professional artists only with U.S. citizenship.

2) Artist in the Marketplace (AIM): Established in 1980, the program seeks to provide “networking opportunities for emerging artists residing in the New York metropolitan area" and to introduce "their work to a greater audience.” Thirty-six selected participants attend weekly seminars led by a faculty of specialists. Topics covered in these sessions “address areas of practical concern to artists including: career management and gallery representation; exhibition and public art opportunities; grant writing, copyright law, and marketing.”

It is a hopeful sign, especially in these financially trying times, when a non-profit arts organization remains so concerned with serving its constituents- accessibility for its local audience, professional advancement for its arts community, and greater cultural understanding in diplomacy efforts.