Support your local museum and get back more than you put in

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.


  1. okgirl says

    I’ve been a member of our local art museum for the past four years. This summer marked the end of my three-year stint as a volunteer docent, actually. We are blessed with TWO word-class museums in my tiny city, both with gorgeous collections and gardens. *My* museum has everything from Picasso to a Xmas festival of trees featuring local artists, lectures on composting, a community food bank-supporting veggie garden tucked into the formal gardens, even movies on the lawn every weekend in July! All for less than the cost of a movie ticket per visit. With a membership, it’s MUCH cheaper than anything else to do in my city (where even a cover charge at a bar is often more than a museum ticket!). Children under 18 are always free, and every second Saturday of each month is free for anyone. And the staff is an amazingly talented group of artists and teachers. This post reminded me of all that! Thanks, Angela! I think I just figured out some of my Xmas shopping, too :)

    • Angela says

      okgirl- “Your” museum sounds wonderful! So happy you’ve discovered the joys of membership, and good for you for being a volunteer docent. I’ll bet you got a lot out of that.

      Glad to hear I reminded you of all you love about it, and also that you’re thinking of it for Xmas shopping. It has been one of our absolute favorite gifts ever.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. says

    Oh, you belong to two of my favorite museums and live in my favorite place. We used to live in Montrose, CA and have family in Pasadena. In our current location we belong to the High Art Museum which has fabulous special exhibits and to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Enjoy the wealth of great museums you have available.

    • Angela says

      Oh, I love Montrose. My favorite consignment shop is there and I am just discovering little restaurants and other places. Yes, the Norton Simon and the Huntington are definitely two favorites and we feel lucky to be so close to them. In los Angeles, proximity is everything. I try to avoid driving and traffic whenever possible.

      I’m glad you have some nice places to enjoy where you live now. Thanks so much for commenting!

  3. Queen Lucia says

    Great post! We’re members of the Seattle Art Museum (though we don’t live in Seattle, but about an hour away) and the membership pays for the two or three times a year we want to take the whole family. As someone with a performing arts background that’s where my interest lies, and between my mom, her friends, and I we have season tickets to three local theater companies (we pool our resources so we get season benefits and the organizations get season ticket holders they wouldn’t normally have). I have also considered becoming a member of our art-house cinema – I might just have to now! Memberships and subscriptions are an important way to help shape the cultural life of your community. How great to have a cool cultural facility in your neighborhood!

    • Angela says

      Thanks, Queen Lucia!
      Oh, I love local theater companies as well, and though we don’t support one yet, it is on my radar and we attend several times a year. We have two favorite troupes and make sure we go to at least one or two performances at each per year.
      I’ll bet your local art house cinema is very affordable! Sadly, theaters are so starved for funds. Everyone seems to enjoy watching at home, and that is okay sometimes, but seeing films with an audience is a whole other experience.

      Enjoy your memberships, and thanks so much for your comment!

  4. Marie-Josée says

    Great post indeed. I took a peak at the websites of the museums you mentioned and boy am I jealous! I love Vermeer, and wow, the cinémathèque is fabulous! Montreal has some very fine museums, and we have a cinémathèque too. I need to look into it. I feel privileged because my employer purchases a yearly membership to the Montreal Fine Arts Museum, and the pass is available to all employees and three guests. The McGill University Redpath Museum is a small natural science museum which is free. It is situated on the grounds of the University, in a lovely Victorian style building. We are also members of the Montreal Botanical Garden, which is listed as one of the most beautiful in the world. It seems hard to believe considering our growing season is so short compared to other locals, but it is truly lovely. I live downtown and walking through the grounds of the garden really soothes my mind an soul. The botanical garden membership offers many advantages too, such as free admittance to other museums in the city during certain months of the year. We have yet to be sufficiently organized to benefit from those perks so far. Loved this post Angela. Thanks!

    • Angela says

      Thanks Marie-Josee! I’m so glad you liked it.
      Yes, we have had a couple of Vermeer visits this past year, and they were just gorgeous.
      And the cinematheque is one of my favorite Los Angeles activities. They have great programming and it’s very eclectic. I have some great memories of bringing out-of-town guests to see films they would have never seen anywhere else and aren’t available on DVD. Very obscure but fascinating old films. So much fun.

      How lovely that your employer has those passes for you, that is a fantastic perk. And the Botanical Garden sounds wonderful, I will make sure to visit if I am back in Montreal someday. I was there almost ten years ago and it was such a brief visit all I can remember is some lovely architecture and heavenly Indian food.

      Thank you for commenting!

  5. Lilypad says

    We are members at the Pacific Science Center and Museum of Flight in Seattle. My husband and homeschooled son (10) are very science-y guys and they frequently have “guy time” where they spend 6 hours or so off together looking at stuff that would make my eyes glaze over in about 1 hour. 😉 In addition to his scientific pursuits, my son is an artist and although we can’t afford an art museum membership at this time, we look at public art wherever we are. Once we stayed at an old-fashioned hotel in Spokane (the Davenport) which had a really cool art collection from “the old days” as he would put it. There’s also a huge arts and crafts fair which takes place each summer in a nearby city and we make a point to go there and be inspired not only by the things which are for sale by artisans from all over the country, but also by the local art museum which has exhibits and activities just for kids. It’s so great and it’s free, as long as we can resist the arts and crafts booths! (it ain’t easy!)

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