Handing out hope

At first glance, providing reduced museum admission fees to people receiving food assistance and other taxpayer-funded help seems like the perfect target for criticism. No strain of the ear is required to hear cynics crow about “handouts” and “freebies” and asking, “Geez, aren’t we giving them enough already?”

But closer examination always results in insights and that rule of thumb applies to the proposal, unveiled last month, to allow more than 758,000 people in Massachusetts receiving food aid to get reduced or free admissions to museums.

The admission reduction applies to more than 100 museums and other cultural venues across the state and follows in the wake of a free and reduced admission policy introduced in 2012 by the Children’s Museum in Boston.

“As part of the Boston Children’s Museum’s commitment to the community, we are determined to keep access affordable to all,” stated Museum President and CEO Carole Charnow in a August 2012 news release.

Lynn Museum Executive Director Drew Russo said opening its doors to everyone is an essential role of the Museum as a community institution.

Giving people who use Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards and who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits an inexpensive visit to a museum isn’t simply another handout.

Museums are power plants of the mind where imagination and inspiration are generated in overdrive around the clock. Circumstances, economic misfortune and even laziness and lack of inspiration often doom people to lives dependent on welfare and handouts. But a walk through a museum is a journey into the possibilities and potential of the human mind.

EBT card holders pay a two dollar non-member rate at the Lynn Museum compared to the regular five dollar non-member rate.

“We are very pleased to participate in EBT Card to Culture. We have always prided ourselves on being a resource to the entire community,” Russo said.

The reason children across the state and the nation receive free or reduced breakfasts at school and reduced-cost lunches is because no country invested in its future can afford to have the next generation of leaders learning at half speed.

Young minds can’t grow and grasp the concept of potential if young bodies are not properly fed. Supplemental breakfast and lunch ensure children are eating the correct foods they need to maintain proper nutrition and to grow and learn.

But the classroom is not the only place where growth and knowledge take place. Museums expose visitors to the possibilities of art and challenge people gawking at a painting, drawing, photograph or sculpture to explore their talents. Every great artist across the centuries was someone who took the first tentative steps involved in creating something. Many, if not most of them, were told, “You’re no good — leave art to the artists.”

Viewing art nurtures the mind and ignites the imagination. Walking around galleries full of paintings or past a statue isn’t an exercise in knowing art history from A to Z; it is a chance to look inward and examine what moves, excites, inspires or scares us.

The world is full of people who were inspired to change their lives, to try harder, to take risks because of a passing but moving encounter with a creative individual or because they laid eyes on a work of beauty created by another human.

Young people who hear music, who watch a dance performance or play, who walk through an art gallery, are entering new worlds free from the preconceptions and prejudices that attach themselves to people as they age. The writers who crafted ballets, operas and plays, the artists who turned paint and marble into beauty, are people regardless of the century they lived in and created in who were inspired by the art of their time, by nature, or by other people who said, “You can do this too: This can be your world.”

Reduced museum admissions to those receiving public assistance should not be regarded as freebies or handouts. They should be considered investments in people who because of limitations or tough circumstances need, in some cases desperately, the inspiration and power that art and all things creative are capable of instilling in people. Art is hope and that’s something everyone needs.

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