If you’re looking for fun, interactive plans for your next outing that won’t bite your budget, you’re in luck.
The Bellingham Public Library is offering free general admission passes to three of the city’s family-friendly museums. Anyone interested is welcome – no library card required. This program is one of the many resources offered by the library that provides community members an opportunity to expand their knowledge and curiosity about the world around them.
“It’s like multi-facets of the same concept of providing equitable access for our community to all of these areas of knowledge and information,” said Annette Bagley, head of community relations at Bellingham Public Library. “That’s how I see the relationship between the library and our museums.”
King County has a similar program offering free museum passes to community members.
“The whole purpose of the museum pass program is to bring patrons the ability to access cultural institutions,” said Kiersten Nelson, community partnership and government relations manager at The Seattle Public Library.
Nelson says one of the values that The Seattle Public Library prioritizes is ensuring that historically disadvantaged groups have access to these institutions, opening the door for experiences they might not otherwise consider. She also added that offering the passes takes away any pressure of visitors feeling forced to enjoy their experience if there is any sort of financial concern for them.
Whatcom Museum was the first to be involved in the Bellingham Library’s partnership. Its admission passes can be used to visit either one of its two buildings: Old City Hall, which houses all of its history exhibits, and the Lightcatcher building, where all of its art galleries are located.
Over time, the program has grown to include SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention and Mindport Exhibits. All of the passes are donated by the participating museums to the library, which then offers them to community members.
“We bring art and history forward so that people can learn about it, but then also they can make their own conclusions about what they think or what they see,” said Christina Claassen, marketing and public relations manager at Whatcom Museum.
“We have a large collection that we hold in public trust because being a part of a city organization, the city owns the collection. So, we hold an interest for the public. And it’s our job to use those artifacts and those objects to tell stories about the community people live in.”
SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention also values the accessibility the program brings to Bellingham locals.
“Science is for everybody,” said Charlie Bryan, visitor engagement manager at SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention. “We want people who aren’t going to go into a STEM-related field or an electrical field to know this stuff and to be familiar with it and to be not intimidated by it.”
The SPARK Museum offers a variety of labs and artifacts that allow visitors to learn about and see the effects electricity has had on science, with some labs creating enough static to raise people’s hair. The museum is best known for its MegaZapper shows, allowing visitors to interact with up to 4.6 million volts of electricity coming from one of the largest Tesla Coils in the country.
Margot Stroop, creative director at Mindport Exhibits, sees the enriching experience that visitors – both new and returning – get from visiting the space. She said there are certain traits that people can gain from museums that they can’t gain elsewhere, including the ability to physically immerse themselves in their curiosity by touching and interacting with certain exhibits.
“There isn’t just one correct way to interact with something,” Stroop said. “[Our exhibits] encourage you to think about what you’re seeing or they encourage you to kind of reconsider what you thought you knew about scientific principles or color, or shape or gravity. Those are ways that we encourage curiosity.”
Mindport Exhibits already keeps financial accessibility in mind, operating their business solely on a donation-based sliding scale. Nonetheless, the Bellingham Public Library has seen great success come from this partnership. Due to the popularity of the program, the library advises planning ahead when scheduling your next museum trip.
“It’s been a tremendous response from the community,” Bagley said. “We are often seeing the passes booked out two and three weeks in advance.”
Claassen also admitted that the Whatcom Museum doesn’t promote the program as much as it used to just because it fills so quickly. Yet, they still manage to see repeat visitors coming back a few months later because they greatly enjoyed their experience. She added that many of these visitors eventually buy museum memberships so that they can visit as many times as they’d like.
Community members aren’t the only appreciative recipients of the partnership either. All the museums said it was gratifying to see visitors explore their curiosity and find excitement in their facilities.
“We really appreciate the public library partnering with all these institutions and offering this program,” Bryan said. “Any opportunity where we can make that connection with another establishment that we find really important, and have that intrinsic value, I think that is great for the community.”
Janet Lopez (she/her) is a city life reporter for The Front. She is majoring in marketing with a concentration in public relations. Her work is focused on lifestyle, upcoming events and sharing fun little stories about Bellingham that you might not have known otherwise.
You can reach her at email@example.com.