Connected \\ May 20, 2019

Museums for all

The Peabody Essex Museum has been a lot of things in its over two centuries of history. From its origins as a repository of artifacts and wonders from across the globe to its position today as one of America’s largest art and culture museums, PEM has, in its way, always been committed to the same mission -- to celebrate artistic and cultural creativity, to increase knowledge, enrich the spirit, to engage the mind and stimulate the senses. We have had the honor of serving this mission for over a million minds and spirits in just the last decade, and we are committed to ensuring that there are no barriers keeping anyone outside our doors and from enjoying our world-class exhibitions. 

With the support and encouragement of our broad community, PEM has taken steps to open our doors to all kinds of people. At the opening of our new building in 2003, we invited the public in free of charge to celebrate our milestone and to enjoy our beautiful new space, and we have been honored to take part in the Highland Street Foundation’s Free Fun Fridays program for the last 11 years. Our museum is always free to Salem residents, veterans, active military families and Massachusetts teachers. Last year, we partnered with the Massachusetts Cultural Council and EBT Card to Culture to welcome families participating in the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program as well, bringing in hundreds of families who may have otherwise been unable to visit.


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© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Mel Taing


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© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Ken Sawyer/PEM


In February at the Boston Children’s Museum, EBT Card to Culture celebrated its successes in facilitating cultural experiences for thousands of people all over the state. There, Mass Cultural Council’s Executive Director Anita Walker recounted a number of stories of the program’s success, including one of a woman who had been a supporter and consumer of the arts her whole life but had fallen on hard times. The Card to Culture program, she said, had been her saving grace. With all the struggles with housing, bills, healthcare, with getting enough to eat, that EBT card was a passport that got her into all those places she’d loved but could no longer afford. It was the one thing, the woman said, that made her feel “normal.”

The story was powerful, and reinforced the need for museums and cultural institutions to make stronger commitments to access for all. To further this commitment, PEM is proud to announce that it has joined over 300 other museums, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Association of Children’s Museums in the Museums for All initiative, which allows holders of a SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card issued from any state to visit us free of charge. A single EBT card will allow up to four guests full access to PEM’s permanent collection and special exhibitions during regular hours Tuesday-Sunday.

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© 2015 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola

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© 2015 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Allison White


Museums for All, which launched in 2014, has already provided over 1.5 million people access to museums in almost every state in the country. “The cost of museum admission can be a barrier for many low-income families,” according to their website, and offering free or discounted admission to those families “encourages individuals of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly and build lifelong museum habits.”

Many staff members here at PEM can attest to the importance of museum visits in shaping people. We see it all the time in our galleries and the comments of our interpretive spaces. We hear about the impacts at the information desk and in the atrium when families come to PEM Pals. Many of us tell stories of when it happened to us in a gallery or exhibit here and elsewhere. Museums are powerful places. They can do incredible things. And they are for everyone. At PEM, we truly believe in Museums for All.


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© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola


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