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600 museums offer free summer admission to military

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2010; C03

The National Endowment for the Arts is inaugurating a new program Monday to give active military personnel and their families free admission all summer to hundreds of U.S. museums, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection.

The project, Blue Star Museums, is a joint effort of the endowment and Blue Star Families, a nonprofit that addresses the challenges of military families. So far more than 600 museums have signed on, including about 30 children's museums.

In Washington, Maryland and Virginia, 70 museums have pledged support. And the list includes many of New York's flagship attractions: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.

"It is a great way to thank the servicemen and women," said Rocco Landesman, the NEA chairman, in an interview before he officially launched the effort at the San Diego Museum of Art on Monday.

The idea was hatched several months ago by Joan Shigekawa, senior deputy chairman and Kathy Roth-Douquet, chairman of Blue Star Families. Landesman explained that the effort dovetails nicely with directives from the White House to engage military families. "The president just mandated a 90-day review of how to help military families. And Mrs. Obama has made this one of her primary areas of engagement, along with her husband and Dr. Jill Biden," he said.

"Military families have limited time together. But if the choice is sitting at home or going to a museum, one factor will not be the cost. It will be on the list of fine things that a family can do," Landesman said.

At the same time, the recession has caused serious problems for many museums, as private and public donations shrink. Landesman said he worried about the museums' willingness to lose revenue. "I called a number of museum directors because I thought there would be a lot of pushback," he said. "That didn't happen at all. The buy-in has been unbelievable."

At the Phillips, the staff decided to jump right in. "It is the right thing to do. We work all the time to see creative solutions to budget challenges and we didn't want those challenges to get in the way of extending this offer," said Ann Greer, the museum's director of communications and marketing. The museum offers admission and membership discounts to the military on a regular basis. And at times it has provided a welcome break for them. Richard Diebenkorn, the abstract artist, visited the Phillips in the 1940s when he was stationed at Quantico. "He said it was his refuge," Greer said.

The free admission, also available to active duty reservists and active duty National Guard, will be offered from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

On Monday, the NEA will unveil on its Web site an interactive map with the participating museums and a dedicated blog.

The NEA has designed programs to capture the experiences of men and women serving overseas and bring quality entertainment to military installations. "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience," now an online project, encourages the soldiers to discuss their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Great American Voices" and "Shakespeare in American Communities" visited military bases.

"This is a notable expansion of those programs," Landesman said.

Other participating area museums include the Baltimore Museum of Art, the American Visionary Art Museum, the Walters Art Museum and the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore. In Washington, the DAR Museum, the Dumbarton House and the Woodrow Wilson House are included.

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