This morning, Mayor Miller and City Librarian Jane Pyper announced an expansion of the Museum & Arts Pass program. Initially kicked off 18 months ago, the Museum & Arts Pass program made a limited number of museum passes available at 24 library branches in “priority” neighbourhoods.
As of March 7, the program will expand–but more for some museums than for others.
One group of museums has agreed to expand their access program to all 99 branches of the Toronto Public Library. This means that soon library card holders will be able to pick up passes for the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics, the Bata Shoe Museum, Black Creek Pioneer Village, the Textile Museum of Canada, the Toronto Historic Museums and the Museum of Inuit Art at all library sites.
Another, smaller, group of museums is only expanding the program to 8 more libraries, for passes available at a total of 32 branches. These museums include the Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Science Centre and Casa Loma.
It’s also worth noting that the admission guidelines vary for each museum. For example, where the MAP pass is good for 2 adults and 5 children at the AGO, it is only good for 2 adults and 2 children at the ROM and 2 adults and 3 children at the Gardiner.
Sun Life Financial — which co-sponsors the MAP program — also had reps at the announcement. According to Pyper, Sun Life committed $225,000 over two years to the program, and their funds are used to mainly print the passes, brochures and promotional materials. Further, according to Sun Life reps, funding right now is set to run out in 12 months, or in March 2010. Midway through this year SunLife will be re-evaluating whether their investment should be continued.
Longtime readers of Spacing Toronto will know that museum and arts access is a bit of pet cause for me. From this perspective, I can say that while this expansion of this (or any access program) is welcome, the bottom line is there are no firm numbers on arts access improvements in Toronto as of yet — no standards, no baselines, no measuring stick.
Without a benchmark of some kind — whether from here or abroad — it’s impossible to know how well we’re doing on cultural access. Without goals, any drop in the bucket can win raucous applause.
The numbers that we do have right now is that 21,000 MAP passes were picked up by Torontonians in 2008. Whether and where they were used is still being tallied up.
When asked what standards and benchmarks the city was using for on arts access, Mayor Miller said, “We’re not thinking that way. We’re trying to invest where we can in very difficult economic circumstances.” He went on, “It’s a challenge. My view is you need to ensure that young people from everywhere have a chance to express their creativity, have a chance to learn, and this program is a small part of creating that opportunity.”
The Mayor also promised more announcements soon of new arts access programs, particularly for youth.
Again on the standards issue, the AGO — which thankfully reassured me that this program expansion won’t edge out free evenings or new-citizen pass programs — is only just beginning to survey the 2,000 free-evening attendees they get every week. AGO CEO Matthew Teitelbaum stressed great interest in gaining repeat visitors, in creating an environment that will be able to welcome people back for 2 days or 20 minutes.
Though this program is a step in the right direction, it’s still far from what’s needed overall. In my most optimistic view, I’d hope it’s a signal of even more access to come — stuff like standard admission below $12, mandatory free evenings, and the like. In my most pessimistic, I’d say it’s that drop in the bucket.
Probably the best thing our museums and galleries could do right now is not just partner with the library — which Pyper recalls co-initiated the project as part of an expanded mission to provide access to information and resources — but to look to it as a model for cultural service.
Photo by Miles Storey