On Sept. 22, 1500 US Museums Open Their Doors for Free
September 20, 2018 3:15 PM   Subscribe

This coming Saturday, September 22, 2018, more than 1,500 museums will open their doors for free as part of Museum Day. Organized by Smithsonian magazine, the annual event includes free admission to museums and cultural institutions in all 50 states. Participating museums range from large, popular institutions like the Zoo Miami to quirky and fascinating specialty museums, like the National Barber Museum in Canal Winchester, Ohio. Visitors are allowed to download one ticket per email address, and each ticket provides free general admission for two people.

Perhaps you are outside of the United States but are in the mood for exploring a museum nonetheless. National Geographic recommends what it claims are the 11 best museums in the world; two are in the US. Museum lovers who find themselves in Brussels have more than 100 museums to visit. So challenging! The Sewer Museum is one of the lesser known museums in the city. From mid-September to early December nearly 70 museums in the city will be open until 10 pm on Thursday nights during the annual Brussels Museums Nocturnes.

Culture Trip offers up its ranking of the 10 Best Museums in Australia. That list does not include Sydney's Museum of Fire (scroll down), which features "flame-blackened bedrooms, shredded curtains, melted appliances on gloriously ’80s retro fit-outs, and even burnt dolls and teddy bears to really drive fear into the depths of the heart." Meanwhile, Canada has more than 2000 museums; one list of the best Canadian museums includes the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which "has some of the most striking displays of architecture in the country" as well offering an education in human rights.

Traveler magazine has opinions about the top 25 museums in Mexico City. The best includes Museo Frida Kahlo aka Casa Azul as well as the city's best-known museum, Museo Nacional de Antropología, which holds the world's largest collection of ancient Mexican artifacts.

Among Hong Kong's top museums is Mei Ho House, according to Time Out Hong Kong. It is "the only surviving remnant of Hong Kong’s oldest public housing project and the recipient of a Unesco honorable mention, Mei Ho House is a vital piece of local history and architecture built after a fire in 1954 left 58,000 homeless."

If that seems a bit too serious, consider visiting one of the museums below:
The Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik. It contains more than 280 penises and penis parts.
The ramen-worshipping wonder that is the CUPNOODLES MUSEUM in Osaka, Japan (free entry!).
The Amsterdam Cheese Museum, where you can "see the most expensive cheese slicer of the world" and dress like a "traditional Dutch cheese farmer."

If you cannot visit in person, many of these museums offer digital delights one can enjoy from afar.
posted by Bella Donna (16 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
This is a fantastic post! Thank you!!
posted by greermahoney at 5:23 PM on September 20, 2018

Thank you, greermahoney! I wanted to include Sweden’s Surstömming (sour i.e. fermented herring) museum as well but there is no decent English version of its website.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:41 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

The need to "download a ticket" (and then what, print? display on mobile phone?) would seem to deeply undermine the egalitarian basis of Museum Day. (Also, that linked page is a UI nightmare, just adding to my point.)
posted by sylvanshine at 5:55 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

On Sept. 22, 1500 US Museums Open Their Doors for Free

But Sept. 22, 1500 was hundreds of years ago, why am I only learning about this now?
posted by Chrysostom at 5:59 PM on September 20, 2018 [8 favorites]

Ooh, Intrepid is one of them. That ticket is stupid expensive; I'd snap that one up.
posted by praemunire at 6:00 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I rushed in to say how excited I am about Museum Day and tripped over all the more inside. Fantastic post.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:55 PM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'll be flying to my folks' place to help them move, but my wife and son have already arranged to visit a local air and space museum for this Saturday's event.

Having said all that, I just want to shout out to all of the small, donation-funded, volunteer-run, local county and city historical museums out there. There are dozens here in Oregon and we always walk out with a deep respect for the people and events that shaped the communities we live in and visit. No exaggeration, I'll bet we find ourselves in one of these little treasures at least every six weeks or so, and while I love the big museum experience, those don't leave me nearly as grounded, centered and settled as I feel after visiting one of these places. Many, if not most, of these museums struggle to just keep their doors open, much less keep the exhibits fresh, and all of them deserve support.
posted by vverse23 at 9:16 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was researching the Met's new admission fee policy earlier this year, I learned this:
Still, other museums are not backing down. In 1992, the Washington, D.C.-based American Alliance of Museums reported that only 36 percent of all art museums in the United States charged any admissions. A similar study conducted in 2008 reported that only one-third of all museums were free to the public, with the average admission fee being $10 for adults.
(I am a little skeptical of the vagueness in that article around whether those numbers really are measuring the same thing and directly comparable, if anyone knows any better sources.)

But the other thing we learn there is that admission fees are 6-15% of revenues for many major museums (there are certainly thousands of fantastic smaller museums for which this is not the case). These fees, which pose a significant barrier to access for many people, are a rather small part of what keeps the museum operating. And while modern museums are greater than ever in many respects, it's not clear to me that some of the most prestigious museums wouldn't be, on balance, better for the world if they made the hard choice to cut back in exchange for being more accessible.

My library has a great program where you can check out (online) memberships to local museums and get free tickets. Most people don't know it exists, and it's limited and requires advance planning, but it's there. Many museums do have periodic free days, and some now are offering free admission to those under 18, which at least helps blunt the "$80 for a family trip to the museum" problem a little. And the lack of government support for museums in the US, as compared to other countries, certainly plays a role. But the "value based pricing" argument where museum administrators insist that admission fees are a great value in comparison to movies and other entertainment prices entirely misses the point that access to museums is supposed to be a public good in and of itself.

Museum Day is great, but I wish people stopped to ask more often why every day isn't museum day.
posted by zachlipton at 9:28 PM on September 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

access to museums is supposed to be a public good in and of itself.

There are no public goods without (at least predominantly) public funding.

By the way, the Met's policy nonetheless gets under my skin. I have a membership good for four admissions a day, so, if there is an out-of-state Mefite visiting on some weekend (and not staying in an illegal AirBnB, that is my one standard) for whom the tickets would be a financial burden, HMU and maybe I can hook you up.
posted by praemunire at 9:34 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Last year I started a small hobby of collecting niche museums - the smaller and more nichely targetted the better.

I have a Google Map of them (635 and counting). Every time I hear about a new one I add it to my map (using the map app on my phone so it only takes a few seconds). Any time I'm in the vicinity of one I try to visit it.

It's turned into one of the most rewarding hobbies I've ever had.

Last week I went to a museum in Roscoff (France) about French onion sellers riding bycicles. The week before I visited the Ilfracombe Museum in North Devon - a classic example in the genre of "eccentric collects things in the 1930s, builds a museum for them". They have a cupboard full of pickled bats and a draw full of wedding cake samples from the 1890s!

Other recent highlights include the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia and the outstanding Bigfoot Discovery Museum just outside Santa Cruz, which is most definitely NOT a joke: the proprietor will spend a full half hour talking you through all of his evidence of the existence of Bigfoot.

It turns out it absolutely doesn't matter what the topic is: if it's niche enough, the very fact that it exists and that someone cares enough to create it is the thing that makes it interesting. And getting to talk to the people there is a guaranteed treat.

It's also a great conversation starter: it turns out everyone has a niche museum suggestion, so it's always fun to hear about more and exchange stories.
posted by simonw at 10:23 PM on September 20, 2018 [8 favorites]

The Cleveland Museum of Art is always free fyi, except for special exhibits. You might have to pay to park, but that's ok.
posted by greatalleycat at 10:39 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of my favourite memories of London was when I poked around Sir John Soane's musuem.
posted by twilightlost at 8:02 AM on September 21, 2018

This is great in theory, but only 2 museums in San Francisco are participating? Feh.
posted by suelac at 8:39 AM on September 21, 2018

You get spoiled growing up around Washington DC because the museums are always free. I've lived in the Bay Area for over 25 years and I'm still a tiny bit put out when I have to pay admission.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:27 AM on September 21, 2018

Also spoiled as a child by the fabulous Saint Louis Art Museum. The facade has "free for the citizens" carved in marble. Hell yeah.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 11:23 AM on September 21, 2018

You get spoiled growing up around Washington DC because the museums are always free.

Because we pay for them. I just can't stress this enough. Places like the Met are easy to take (deserved) whacks at, but without funding, no arts. Without government funding, no art truly open to the people. Not in this world.
posted by praemunire at 1:31 PM on September 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

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