Accessing the arts: Museums for All isn’t just about access, it is also about the experience

“Access to arts is imperative,” was the message the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) shared last week across its social media platforms to remind the community of its partnership with Museums for All and that Electronic Benefit Transfer card-carrying visitors can access its art gallery for just $1.

“UICA believes that arts should be accessible to everyone living, working, and playing in Grand Rapids,” says Chris Koens, marketing and communications coordinator at UICA. “Museums for All helps to combat some of the barriers preventing folks from visiting cultural institutions; specifically, barriers that previously prevented local residents from experiencing the galleries, theater, and educational spaces at UICA,” he adds.

Since last year, UICA has been a participant of Museums for All, an initiative of the Institute of Museum and Library Services that makes it possible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries to gain free or reduced admission to participating museums across the United States simply by presenting their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. The program aims to open up access to cultural institutions for families for whom the cost of admission can create a barrier. However, providing access is only the beginning. Through its participation, UICA hopes to create opportunities for more people to experience the benefits of the arts.

“Contemporary art uniquely reflects the world we live in and presents a platform for people to build understanding – not only for their own experiences; but, in shared experiences with others,” says Koens. “Through art, film, and educational programming, we provide possibilities for thinking outside of ourselves and experiencing the world from another person's or culture's perspective.”

UICA is among three known Grand Rapids-area museums participating in Museums for All. Families can experience an environment for play and creativity at The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum where interactive exhibits such as Think Tank provide an opportunity for youngsters to engage in concepts such as drafting and design – by using blocks to create robots and rocket ships. While visiting the Grand Rapids Art Museum, individuals can experience the art of wordless storytelling in an exhibit featuring the body of work from highly acclaimed book illustrator David Wiesner. At UICA, its year-round programs focus on fostering belonging by sharing perspectives that grow an equitable, thriving culture and community.

“Throughout the year, UICA offers programs that are free with admission, including First Fridays and Family Days. These programs extend the traditional gallery experience and allow guests of all ages to expand their ideas about and understanding of contemporary art,” says Koens. Through hands-on activities led by staff and volunteers, visitors learn about different art-making techniques and are invited to create something inspired by the artwork and films found within UICA. These experiences, among others, are available year-round to EBT card-carrying visitors for whom admission is just $1 for up to four guests when they show their card upon arrival. 

Museums for all is administered by the Association of Children’s Museums and seeks to encourage people of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly to experience art, culture, and educational opportunities – while building lifelong museum-going habits. It is a branded access program launched in 2014/2015. As of March 2019, participating museums have welcomed nearly 2 million visitors nationwide through the initiative. 

Photos courtesy Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

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