By Kendra Sitton
With San Diego museums fully operating once again, residents have the chance to visit these attractions for half-off admission throughout February.
The Museum Month program was growing in popularity before the pandemic. In February 2019, more than 29,000 people visited a museum at a discounted price. The following year, that number increased to 37,000.
Since museums were closed in February 2021, the San Diego Museum Council took the month to highlight the virtual events museums put on to keep members connected. Much of the virtual programming is still occurring, but with the return to in-person visits to museums, event organizers are overjoyed to welcome people back.
“Everyone has to come back into the museums and that’s the most exciting part,” said Bob Lehman, executive director for the San Diego Museum Council.
The program has existed for more than 30 years and is unique in the cooperation between museums that the event requires. Kerri Fox, who was the spokesperson for the Museum Council for several years, said other cities sent representatives to attend the program so they could start a similar effort in their cities.
Macy’s is a longtime sponsor of the program and people can pick up the half-off admission passes at its stores. In addition, the company is donating 400 fully-paid admissions. A few years ago, the Museum Council wanted to improve accessibility for all communities so they formed a partnership with the library systems in the county. Now, more than 80 libraries also give away the passes.
“Something I know that is important to the Museum Council is making sure people from all communities are aware of the program and can visit because price sometimes is a barrier to access in visiting museums,” said Rebecca Handlesman, communications director for the Natural History Museum (The Nat).
Advertising for the event may also help locals learn about museums that are accessible at lower price points year-round. Free and pay-what-you-can museums are a part of the program. Some San Diego museums are part of “Museums for All,” a national effort to offer free or discounted museum admission to people using government assistance.
For instance, at the New Children’s Museum, visitors can show their EBT cards and enter the museum for $2 per person. At The Nat, an EBT card grants free entry for up to four people in a family. The New Children’s Museum also closes Island Avenue to vehicular traffic on the weekends so children can play with the toy cars and activities they place on the street for free. It operates as an extension of the public park across the street. Since it is outside, this area also lets families concerned about coronavirus have a museum experience without going inside.
“If people are more comfortable being outside on the weekends, they can be playing in our street,” said Fox, a deputy director at the New Children’s Museum.
To stay safe, museums require masks and some reduced hours to give frontline workers time off as well as to thoroughly clean the building.
For those who do not qualify for a WIC or EBT card, Museum Month allows them to try out new museums at a more affordable price point. February sees a jump in admissions for participating museums, some of them from first-time visitors.
“Museum Month is always a time where we know we’re going to see some new visitors and a lot of them end up becoming members because they love what they see,” Fox said.
Participating museums are not limited to geographic areas like Balboa Park or Downtown San Diego. Instead, they are throughout the county – such as the Barona Cultural Center and Museum to the east, the Oceanside Museum of Art to the north, and the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center to the south.
Handlesman said she uses the month to visit museums she would not normally visit.
“Museum Month is an opportunity to either museum hop and visit a variety of museums or try something new for a lower entry point as far as pricing is concerned. It’s a great opportunity to be able to experiment and check out a new museum that you might not have otherwise visited,” she said.
Handlesman is excited to visit the San Diego Model Railroad’s new exhibit “Out of the Vault,” which includes unique and rare items from the museum’s collection, some of which have never been viewed by the public before. Lehman said even as an adult he loves visiting the New Children’s Museum and is especially excited about its new exhibit Teatro Piñata, an immersive theater installation. The recently re-opened Mingei Museum is expected to draw visitors as well.
“I really just want to walk around Balboa Park,” Fox said.
With so many museums participating, there is something for everyone, and at every price point, during museum month.
— Reach Kendra Sitton at email@example.com.