Gogh with it

October 18, 2013
(Ben Claassen III/For Express)
(Ben Claassen III/For Express)

Visiting The Phillips Collection isn’t all that different from taking the Metro these days. Both have red, orange, blue, green and yellow lines. (Although, admittedly, I’m partial to the ones in the Rothko Room.) Ever since the museum’s “Van Gogh Repetitions” exhibit opened last weekend, the crowding there has reached Metro rush-hour levels. And, now, both accept SmarTrip.

As part of a collaboration between WMATA and the Phillips, customers can preorder limited-edition cards — set to ship Oct. 25 — that feature one of four images of Vincent van Gogh paintings in the exhibit: “The Postman Joseph Roulin,” “Madame Roulin Rocking the Cradle,” “The Bedroom at Arles” and “The Road Menders.” Yes, that last one depicts folks fixing a street, which could seem like a nod to the transit system’s epic rebuilding efforts.

What Metro is really trying to emphasize with the cards, however, is that its trains and buses can take you to places other than just the office. Metro started a pilot program pushing that message with Madame Tussauds this summer; SmarTrip holders were invited to show their cards at the wax museum for a $5 discount on admission.

That success encouraged Metro to partner with other cultural institutions, and the Phillips, which is just about a block from the Dupont Circle Metro, is up next. Sarah Schaffer, the museum’s director of marketing and communications, loves the idea of visitors being able to hold on to a card as a keepsake.

“I still have an inauguration farecard from ’92, and a panda one from 30 years ago,” says Schaffer, who’s eyeing the bushy-bearded postman as the next addition to her collection.

The van Gogh cards are also a bargain for riders, adds WMATA assistant general manager Lynn Bowersox. Flashing one at the Phillips gives holders $3 off the $12 admission and 20 percent off at the gift shop. The price of all Smar-Trip cards dropped to $2 on Oct. 1 — you pay $10 and get a card loaded with $8 — so it’s almost like getting a buck you can spend to see art.

And chances are, you’ll keep seeing art if you buy one of the cards. Bowersox says the average person holds on to a SmarTrip for four years.

Nine out of 10 riders already have a SmarTrip in their wallet, which is why tourists pose the biggest opportunity for these mini masterpieces. It’s the out-of-towners who are still shelling out an extra dollar per ride to use paper farecards. If they’re not organized enough to buy a SmarTrip online before they arrive, they’ll be able to snag a van Gogh on-the-go at stations, too.

Visitors have been swayed before, especially by the Obama inauguration cards and one touting the opening of Nationals Park. If they’re not van Gogh fans, Bowersox notes, there are other options in the pipeline, including one promoting another cultural institution as well as the debut of the Silver Line.

You can collect them all. And you know they’ll hold value.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Marissa Payne · October 18, 2013