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DMA Launches Free Admissions and Memberships Today

by Jerome Weeks 21 Jan 2013 8:21 AM

It’s D Day. Or DMA Day. Actually, it’s MLK Day — and what better occasion for the Dallas Museum of Art to admit visitor for free? And then there’s that whole new membership deal, the real innovation.


FrontRow editor Peter Simek tries to get the hang of all this newfangled museum-membership-joining technology.

Starting today, attending the Dallas Museum of Art will be free. But KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports the new policy is a little more complicated – and more innovative – than that.

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Getting in the door at the DMA will be free. Once you’re in, you may still have to pay for touring exhibitions and lectures

Maxwell Anderson is the DMA’s director.  He says the DMA did this “not only because it was the right thing to do. It’s also because, economically, it makes sense.”

Free admission will gain a wider, more democratic audience for the museum. And because ticket sales, on average, make up only four percent of a museum’s revenue, Anderson says it wasn’t hard finding donors willing to make up the difference.

What’s gotten attention in the art world, though, is the DMA’s new membership program, called DMA Friends & Partners. If you’re already a paid DMA member, you can become a DMA Partner – with different levels of benefits for different donations. For everyone else, there’s the DMA Friends, which is free. You join by registering on one of the museum’s new iPad kiosks. You get a membership card, like a grocery store rewards card. You use it, you earn discounts and benefits like free parking. You earn them by visiting different galleries, attending different programs. It’s a way for the DMA to foster visitor participation.

But a grocery card also tracks your purchases. The new Friends card will let the DMA track your museum-going habits. With that, the DMA hopes to learn how to make its programs more accessible, more interactive.

Robert Stein is the deputy director in charge of the new system. He says, “What’s really important is that it tells us what people who are actually using the museum get, don’t get, what works, what does not work. It’s a source of information for us that no museum in the world has ever had.”