Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A proposal for a DCResidentCulturePass in DC

Two errors in one day. Not good.

John Suau, Executive Director of the Historical Society of Washington points out that I mis-remembered what I read about access to HSW collections being made available at the Newseum, and the Newseum extending free access to HSW members during the period that Newseum is housing the collection.

I wrote:
The HSW collections will be accessible at the Newseum in the interim, and the Newseum is extending free access to its museum to HSW members during that time.
The reality as relayed by Mr. Suau:
Access to the Historical Society is via the Group Entrance on C Street; prior appointment is required for access to the Historical Society on 3M in the Newseum. The Historical Society does not charge a fee for services (we are a private 501(c)(3) that receives only nominal support from the District). This entrance does not allow for free access to the Newseum's exhibits and program.
-- HSW press release on access to collections while the Carnegie Building is closed for construction 

In any case, I am glad I mis-remembered, because it led to a very good idea, and this post. In fact, to build membership, Newseum should consider doing what I thought they were doing.

I have corrected the text below.

This poster from the 1970s advertised free admissions nights at museums in New York City and was designed by Alan Peckolick, who recently died ("Alan Peckolick, a Leading Logo Designer, Dies at 76," New York Times).

Culture notesThe new Museum of the Bible about to open in DC has announced that admissions fees will be voluntary, in part because by being in DC, they will be competing with the Smithsonian Institution museums and the National Gallery of Art, which are free.

The Historical Society of Washington's "second floor" of the old Carnegie (Library) Building will be closed during the building's first floor conversion to an Apple Store.  The HSW collections will be accessible at the Newseum in the interim, and the Newseum is extending free access to its museum to HSW members during that time, by appointment and through the special group entrance on 5th Street. Access to the HSW collection does not include free access to the Newseum exhibits.

Last month, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History announced they would be closing its IMAX theater and replacing it with an expanded food service operation.

I write a lot about cultural planning, cultural heritage, and heritage tourism, mostly in the context of Washington, DC and my identification of the gap between serving local audiences and telling the "Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," 2007) versus being the place where the national story is told and how national power is projected through the various federal cultural institutions ("Dancing with the one that brung ya and challenging the dominant narrative," 2008).

And about arts and culture and urban revitalization ("Arts, culture districts and revitalization," 2009, and "BTMFBA: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building," 2016).

In keeping with my line that "I might not be a good planner, but I am great at gap analysis," it turns out that this ends up being a good place to discern gaps in cultural planning practice, especially because DC as a local place has ceded the provision and development of what would be a local cultural facilities ecosystem to the federal government, ending up with a situation where the local cultural program and offer is severely stunted.

Although DC is going through a culture master planning process, since they haven't reached out to me, I wonder about how good the plan will be.  That might sound "conceited" but outside of academia, the reality is that few people in the city are considering these issues in quite the same way.

Then again, they have decent consultants, and there is a standard approach to cultural master planning which tends to yield good work, e.g., Boston, Chicago, etc., even if I argue that there are plenty of gaps in the process of creating culture master plans leaving important elements of the cultural ecosystem unexamined, such as with higher education ("Should community culture plans include elements on higher education," 2016), cultural media, and local filmmaking ("Culture planning at the metropolitan scale should include funding for "local" documentary film making," 2016).

Not to mention that even bigger institutions have a problem finding affordable space in DC's expensive real estate ("D.C. museums lamenting the real estate market," Washington Business Journal).

And the closure of the IMAX Theatre reminds me of my point that local cultural plans still need to make recommendations about other cultural institutions, even those that are federally owned, within their communities when circumstances change.

DC's culture plan needs to consider provision of spaces of all types, including theaters.

Categorizing the audience for museums and cultural facilities in Washington.  Technically, we should first distinguish between presenting institutions, or arts as consumption, and arts as production.  Plus visual arts, natural science, and history museums have a different typology than performing arts, especially theatre, but I am not distinguishing between these two categories.  And the list below is not exhaustive.

Arts centers tend to support working artists, arts as community building, and community arts, while arts museums tend to "present" works by name artists, and may be "encyclopedic," presenting arts and artifacts over centuries.  History-related institutions (museums, historic house museums, sites, etc.) generally don't address "contemporary" matters, although there are exceptions.

We can categorize museums/cultural institutions in Washington, DC into four types.

National museums.  The first set are "federal" or nationally-focused and are positioned to tell the "national story of the United States," project national pride, etc.  These include the various Smithsonian Museums, the National Gallery of Art, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  The museums are free, but performances at the Kennedy Center are not.

This category should include the National monuments (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, etc.) on the National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, and the White House, none of which charge admissions, and the Mount Vernon Plantation of George Washington, which does.

These institutions comprise the primary "tourist destinations" that out-of-the-area visitors attend on visits to Washington.

To this category should also be added certain National Parks in the area.

Nationally-focused museums.  The second set is comprised of facilities that aim to draw on the "national" audience, people visiting the city, and are less focused on serving the local community, even if they do so and quite well. 

This category includes the International Spy Museum, the now closed National Museum of Crime and Punishment, the never opened Armenian Genocide Museum of America, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Newseum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the soon to open Museum of the Bible.  Excepting the forthcoming Bible Museum, all charge admissions.  And charging puts them at a disadvantage compared to the "free museums."

Cultural institutions based here.  A third set is facilities offered by institutions based here, and even if the focus of the facility is not local, the audience tends to be made up of locals.  This includes Constitution Hall (Daughters of the American Revolution), the Anderson House of the Society of Cincinnati, the Phillips Collection, the National Building Museum, the German-American Heritage Museum, Dunbarton Oaks, the Hillwood Estate, Folger Shakespeare Library, etc.  Most of these facilities charge admissions.

(The Building Museum would argue it should be in the second category.  Interestingly, while their exhibits are nationally-focused and their sponsors tend to be national firms and organizations, my sense is that their audience is pretty local, so I have them in this category.)

Locally-focused cultural institutions.  The fourth set is facilities focused on serving the local population/telling the local story/or are a part of local institutions.  The foremost local cultural institutions in most communities are the local library system, the local fine arts museum, and the local history museum. 

DC has a local library system, but it doesn't have a local fine arts museum.  The Historical Society tried to create a "City Museum," but it didn't work out. 

While it is fulsome to take the blame, I kick myself for not putting forward the idea that the now defunct Corcoran Gallery be taken over by the city and made over into the local fine arts museum, while shifting the Corcoran School of Art and Design to the University of the District of Columbia ("Should community culture plans include elements on higher education").  Although I don't think DC had the capacity to rise to the challenge and opportunity.

The someday to reopen Children's Museum is one (even though they want to reposition as a national museum), as are the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, and the collections of the Historical Society of Washington, Tudor Place, the Katzen Center at American University, Lisner Auditorium, the Textile Museum and the George Washington University Museum (focused on local history), etc.  Many charge for admission, some don't.

Equity admissions initiatives. Years ago, I came across a program by the Walker Art Center which provides free membership for low income families (How Museums Can Become Visitor Centered, p.14, The Wallace Foundation), and even provides transportation to the museum.

Similarly, the Montgomery County Department of Recreation RecAssist Fund provides free access for low income families. 

The Salt Lake City Library system has worked out an arrangement with five local cultural facilities: Discovery Gateway; The Leonardo; Natural History Museum of Utah; Red Butte Garden, and Utah Museum of Fine Arts; to provide the "Community Exploration Pass," where patrons can check out a pass providing free access to the museums for one month.  (There are limited numbers of passes, but passes are available at all seven branches.)

I am sure there are other examples.

This one isn't quite the same as the others, but, courtesy of the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, residents of New York City can get free admission to the PS1 museum outpost of the Museum of Modern Art, located in Queens, provided they can show id demonstrating their residency. 

Similarly, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters  Museum of Art (Baltimore) have free admission, supported in part I believe by foundations.

And as featured in the museum poster, many museums have one night per week or month when they offer free admission.

CityPass marketing packages are oriented to tourists.  Cities with a large base of tourist visitation tend to have a product called a CityPass, marketed to tourists. 

A CityPass packages a number of attractions into one ticket, at a discount from the list price for individual admission, and can be bought to be used over multiple days.  The San Francisco CityPass includes free transit on the MUNI system--streetcars, cable cars, MUNI Metro, and buses.

In DC, because the primary museums are free, CityPass isn't likely interested in being represented in the market. 

Instead, DestinationDC has created an equivalent product, called the Go Card Explorer Pass.  But since most tourists are primarily interested in the national museums and monuments, it likely isn't a big player in the tourism market, except that it is marketed in association with tourist bus transportation.

Why not a "CityPass" membership package for local residents/How about creating the DCResidentCulturePass.  The relationship between the Newseum and the Historical Society of Washington for the period when access to the HSW archives is on-site at the Newseum gave me an idea.

The cultural institutions that charge admission and focus on serving local audiences (mostly) should create a form of "Resident CityPass" that allows for limited admission privileges at the other institutions, with the aim towards encouraging more visitation and an increased number of memberships.

For example, a pass could include the National Building Museum, the Historical Society, Newseum, Phillips Collection, Tudor Place, Hillwood Estate, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 

A relevant example is how Disneyland and Disneyworld offer specially priced membership passes for area residents, although the price keeps rising and the benefits reduced ("Disneyland reintroduces Southern California pass for $459," Orange County Register).

Similarly, many years ago when I applied for a job at a "chain-oriented" concert/theatre facility, I made the point that while on any one night they competed with local institutions like the National Theatre, Arena Stage, the Shakespeare Theatre, and the Kennedy Center for selling tickets, the reality is that these institutions collectively comprise the "Downtown DC Cultural Cluster" and they should share audiences, vis-à-vis cultural institutions located outside of the city center.

The idea of "Resident" isn't limited to DC, but to residents in Metropolitan DC who are members of at least one of the proposed participating institutions.  Of course, any relationship a local library system wanted to develop, comparable to that how the Community Exploration Pass works in Salt Lake is up to them.

Other marketing initiatives as examples: two local; one cross-national; one national. Locally, the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium provides free access the first weekend in June.  The participating museums are Anderson House – Society of the Cincinnati, Dumbarton House, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, The National Museum of American Jewish Military History, The Phillips Collection, and Woodrow Wilson House.

On the last weekend of June, the Heritage Montgomery (Montgomery County, Maryland) sponsors Heritage Days, which provide open access to museums and sites across the county, with a special focus on events in the Upper County Agriculture Reserve.

Doors Open Events.  Doors Open is a program like that of the DKMC, but extended to the entire city. 

In North America, Toronto and New York City are two of the cities that offer such programs, although the original concept comes from Europe. 

The Toronto event led to the creation of a similar initiative for the entire Province of Ontario, Doors Open Ontario.  Baltimore's Tourism Day is comparable.  New York's version is called Open House New York and is in October.

Smithsonian Magazine's Museum Day Live!.  Nationally, the Smithsonian Magazine sponsors Museum Day Live! where you can get free passes to two museums, chosen from a long list of participating museums.  But usually going to any of the sites is quite a zoo.  This year it's Saturday September 23rd.

DC needs its own Open House/Doors Open event to promote local cultural institutions.  Building on the DMKC Museum Walk the first weekend in June, at a minimum DC needs to create its own Doors Open event to promote local cultural institutions separate from the national institutions, to build local audiences for local culture, and to improve equitable access to cultural institutions on the part of audiences which may be income limited.

Conclusion.  Ideally a DC Doors Open initiative should be paired with a CityResidentCulturePass program.

I wonder if either concept is suggested in the DC Cultural Master Plan draft?

Labels: , , , , , ,


At 2:51 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Museums for All program with the IMLS and the Association of Childrens Museums.

Participants offer low income patrons discounted admission (free to $3 per ticket).

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

apparently there is a locally sponsored similarly funded program in Toronto, although the sponsor is dropping out.


Post a Comment

<< Home