January 8, 2016; Nonprofit Quarterly

In a newswire last month, NPQ reported on a number of initiatives from nonprofit cultural institutions and art service organizations to provide access for low-income families to arts experiences. The jumping-off point for that report was Museums for All, a national effort to offer deeply discounted admissions for families, typically linked to their state-issued electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards. We asked for more examples from the field, and we’ve had enough response to warrant a follow-up report.

We share these additional program descriptions in the hope that they will spark ideas—and action—elsewhere:

  • Dale Davis of the New York State Literary Center (NYSLC) in Rochester, New York, wrote to tell us about a three-year-old initiative known as “Rebuilding Families,” in partnership with the Office of Sheriff for the County of Monroe and the Rochester Broadway Theater League. This program grew out of an NYSLC community engagement seminar at Monroe Correctional Facility. As Davis explains, “The focus is attendance at a touring Broadway musical as a shared experience between parents and children upon the incarcerated parent’s release to reaffirm the family, to reduce the impact of incarceration for children, and to enhance communication between newly released parents and their children.” Davis adds that a new program is being tried out this year, offering one-year family memberships to a museum for a small number of newly released parents and their families.
  • Eileen McMahon of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts wrote to describe a number of family-friendly initiatives, two of which specifically aim to engage parents and children together in cultural experiences. Family-Linc, launched in December 2014, is “a program designed to encourage families with financial or other barriers to the arts to attend performances in dance, theater, orchestral music and opera on a regular basis.” Family-Linc is delivered in conjunction with 18 social service agencies throughout the city’s five boroughs, including Children’s Aid Society, Safe Horizons, Bronx fathers Taking Action, Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center and the Amsterdam Houses Tenant Association. “The agencies identify families for the program and help ensure they have the support they need to attend the performances,” according to McMahon. To date, 239 families have participated. And a second program, new in 2016, is a partnership between Lincoln Center Education (LCE) and Women In Need (WIN), one of the largest providers of temporary housing for women and children in New York City. Based on a successful pilot in two shelters during 2014–15, LCE will be providing an artist-in-residence to lead hands-on workshops for families at the Powers Avenue Family Residence in the South Bronx.

We also have an update from Art-Reach on the impact of its ACCESS Admission program, which offers $2 admissions to 31 cultural institutions for family members with Pennsylvania EBT/ACCESS cards. We reported that through its first five months, more than 10,400 people benefited from this program; we have now learned that in its first full year, more than 50,000 people benefited.

Please, keep those cards and letters coming, or add a comment below. Share your good ideas with others in the field who might be able to borrow from them and make more families feel welcome to participate in the arts.—Eileen Cunniffe