Local museums offer discounted admission as part of 'Museums for All' program

FLINT, Michigan — Experiencing the excitement and inspiration that the arts, culture, and museums can provide is essential to a community. However, for some families, affording regular museum admission fees can be too costly. Through community partnerships and a national program called Museums for All, two local museums open their doors at a discount, for those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits). Locally, the Flint Children’s Museum and Flint Institute of Arts has joined forces with more than 800 other museums throughout the country. 

Museums for All encourages individuals of all backgrounds to visit art, history, natural history/anthropology, children’s museums, science centers, planetarium, nature centers, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and other museums regularly to build lifelong habits.

To rid the financial barrier of low-income families, reduced admission is available ranging from no cost to $3 to visitors (up to four individuals) with an EBT card. There is no limit on how many times families can use the discount throughout the year, making these cultural institutions a great place for a ‘staycation,’ an educational day trip, or summer vacation. Since the launch of the program in 2014, over 3.5 million visitors across all 50 states have utilized the discount program. 

Marissa Pierce, director of development at Flint Institute of Arts, says part of the museum’s mission is to be accessible to everyone, not just Genesee County. Through offering free admission on Saturdays, sponsored by Huntington Bank, economic or regional barriers are removed. The museum also partners with The Genesee County Arts Education and Cultural Enrichment Millage, to offer free admission for all Genesee County residents any day of the week.

The lobby area inside the Flint Institute of Arts, located at 1120 E Kearsley St, Flint, MI 48503.

“It’s important to us that everyone is able to enjoy the collection,” Pierce says. “We often say we are just stewards of the collection and the museum is really everyone’s museum. It’s important that everyone is able to participate in the enjoyment of the arts. With our expansive collection, we’re almost at our 100th anniversary. The FIA has been around for a very long time. It is a community museum so we want to make sure that everyone who comes here feels comfortable, that there are no barriers to them coming to access the museum and to enjoy the collection.”

In addition to free admission, the museum also offers free glass blowing demonstrations on the weekends, sponsored by McLaren, and a year-round art school. Scholarships are available to help offset the cost. “We really work to provide ways that everyone can come and enjoy the museum and really immerse themselves in art,” Pierce says.

With over 9,000 pieces in the permanent collection, Pierce says families can make a day out of it, exploring and experiencing a Spring Break ‘staycation’ right here in Flint. Day Trip agendas can include the current exhibition, Sons: Seeing the Modern African American Male, a glass blowing demo, lunch in the cafe, and films on the weekend. 

“There’s definitely a lot to do and to enjoy,” Pierce says. “You can make a whole day of it and immerse yourself all day. Really, I don’t think there’s anything in our area that provides that. It’s really a fun space that I think families would definitely enjoy.”

The FIA features a new air filtration system and encourages social distancing but masks are not required at this time. Visitors with an EBT card and valid photo ID can receive up to four individuals admission to the FIA for free. 

Children ages 2-10 can experience hands-on learning activities at Flint Children's Museum.
The Flint Children’s Museum, in partnership with the Association of Children's Museums & Institute of Museum and Library Services, also offers a Museums for All admission discount. Jacky Metcalfe, visitor services manager, says the hands-on learning environment provides learning fun play with ‘accidental’ learning. Oftentimes, it’s a child’s first introduction to a museum experience.

The museum includes community role and career exploration areas, a performing arts area, a ‘how things work’ gallery, a discovery zone, an outdoor art wall, water rockets, and a gardening area, in partnership with Edible Flint. 
An interactive dental experience at The Flint Children's Museum.
“That’s a really neat experience for the kids because a lot of the kids haven’t had a chance to grow their own vegetables at home or to see where their food comes from,” Metcalfe says. 

The museum also features physical activity programs, including running club, a partnership with the Crim Fitness Foundation. The program is free with a $5 t-shirt fee. Participants come in once a week, develop team-building skills, run outside, have educational activities about nutrition, and learn about their bodies. 

“We try to keep our admission low,” Metcalfe says, “it costs us $14 per person who walks through the door in overhead just to keep the museum going. We only charge $6 which does break down some barriers already but we want to make sure every child has the opportunity to visit the museum.”

Partnerships like Flint Recast helped provide free admission for 1000 visits last year and will sponsor another 800 visits starting this Spring, says Metcalfe. According to her, 13% of the museum’s visitors use their EBT and WIC cards to get reduced admission. 

With their satellite location at the Flint Farmers’ Market, Metcalfe says the museum is able to reach more families who are utilizing their Double Up Food Bucks while grocery shopping. “Our staff talks to the folks that come through the market and we let them know how they can come to our museum and get half-off or free admission,” she says. “Some of them didn’t even know about the museum or understand exactly what we were in the community so it will be their first time here at the museum.”

The Flint Children’s Museum is continually seeking community partnerships, grants, and sponsorships to enable free admission for guests. 

For more information on Museums for All, visit: museums4all.org

Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.