Over the past few years, my husband and I have become members of two area museums and the experience has become such an integral part of our lives I wanted to tell you about it. Initially, we were given memberships as gifts, but now I can’t imagine letting the relatively small yearly cost stop us from being lifetime members (or as long as we live in Los Angeles, at least.)
We’re fortunate to have many fine museums in the area, and two of our favorites are just a short drive away. I’m sorry we didn’t become members sooner, but we were unaware of all the benefits we were missing out on. The Norton Simon Museum is actually only a few miles from our home and a beautiful walk if we have the time. The Huntington Library’s world famous gardens are a pleasant ten-minute drive through Pasadena, and I often visit simply to stroll the grounds and free my mind from day-to-day stresses. Both my husband and I stop by the Norton Simon often to look at a favorite painting, stroll around the lily pond and admire the sculptures, or read a book in the cafe/garden area.
Before receiving these generous gifts, I often thought of museum memberships as something only for the wealthy, unaffordable for us. How absolutely wrong I was! A yearly membership to the Norton Simon is just $65 for two people, and The Huntington is a very reasonable $120, which includes several guest passes.
Since we visit several times a year, the per-visit cost is very low, and the benefits are impossible to measure. Looking at art, or even being around it, is both inspirational and soothing to the spirit. It’s difficult to have negative thoughts or wish others ill when you’re surrounded by the work of the masters. And I could roam the grounds of The Huntington for years without discovering every surprising and delightful botanical choice tucked away in each nook and cranny.
What happens when you have a membership is that you free yourself from a visit to the museum being an all-day, pricey excursion, which might well end in exhaustion and a glazed-over expression from trying to take in too much at once. With a membership, you can drop in for an hour to visit a favorite painting or read a book on your favorite bench. In addition, you will enjoy many amenities not open to the general public. For example, at the Norton Simon we are invited several times a year to a small party with drinks and hors d’ oeuvres to celebrate the acquisition of a piece of art or a painting on loan from another museum. At the Huntington, there’s a free summer concert series on the lawn for members, along with several lectures throughout the year on topics such as “The Problem of Writing a Biography of Frederick Douglass” and “Lincoln, Slavery, and Democracy in the Secession Crisis.”
The benefits of museum membership extend to other institutions as well. For the past two years, we have also been members of the American Cinematheque, which screens new, classic, not-on-DVD, and unreleased films in a historic theater in Hollywood. When the $65 yearly cost was offered at a “two years for the price of one” rate, I finally committed to becoming a member, after being an enthusiast for many years. Again, the cost has paid for itself many times over, and members are invited to extra screening events with special guests several times a year. I enjoy being part of a community that values screening films in a theater, as they were meant to be seen, with an audience.
So if you’ve been under the impression that museum memberships are only for people with money to burn and too much time on their hands, I hope this post will make you reconsider. Because for us they are not only a rich cultural experience, but an inexpensive outing as well as a community building endeavor. Which makes them a perfect entertainment option for non-consumers.
Do you belong to a museum or other artistic or cultural institution? Please share your experiences in the Comments section.