Portland Museum of Art’s new admissions policy

If you’re 21 or younger, it’s free, whether you’re from Maine or Madrid.
Redbud Tree in Bottom Land, Red River Gorge, Kentucky, April 17 1968, 1979, Eliot Porter, dye transfer print, courtesy Portland Museum of Art. All pieces in this post are part of their permanent collection.
In my youth, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery offered free admission. If it was too rainy to go to the cemetery or the park, our parents took us to the art gallery. By the time I was aware of my surroundings, it was as familiar to me as my street was. As a teenager and young adult, I continued to visit it regularly. My keen interest in art history started there.
Two Men in a Canoe, 1895, Winslow Homer, watercolor on gray laid paper, courtesy Portland Museum of Art
Beginning tomorrow, Maine’s Portland Museum of Art will be free for anyone 21 or younger. (This extends the museum’s current policy, which is free admission to kids age 14 and younger.) If they sign up for the Susie Konkel Pass, they also will be able to attend free film screenings and receive other benefits.
Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp, 1895, Frederic Edwin Church, courtesy Portland Museum of Art
The age of free art galleries is mostly over, which means that parents don’t take their kids to visit much on rainy Saturday afternoons. There are, of course, still hold-outs: the Smithsonian, the Scottish National Gallery, the National Gallery in London, the National Gallery of Victoria, to name a few.
Many museums offer ‘free days’ or limited kids passes. But mostly, it costs money to get in the door. That’s just one more nail in the coffin for kids’ exposure to art, which has been on a downward slide since No Child Left Behind excluded art and music from the nation’s core curriculum.
Beaver Dam Pond, Acadia National Park, 2009, Richard Estes, courtesy Portland Museum of Art.
The stiff admission charged by large museums ($25 for MoMA and the Met, for example) distorts the museum experience. Visitors by necessity rush through and see the highlights of the collection, whizzing past the tiny gems. The farcical end of this kind of experience is the reduction of culture to a selfie with the Mona Lisa.
Susie Konkel, who paid for the Portland Museum’s policy expansion, is a retired teacher from Cape Elizabeth. That’s about all I can find about her on the internet, but it’s an unusual profile for a philanthropist. “Education’s always been very important to me,” she told Maine Public Radio. “And I think every child—not just in Maine—every child around the world should have the opportunity to experience the arts. And they get about 9,000 children here each year, into the museum. And this will just make it endless!”
Castine Harbor, 1852, Fitz Henry Lane, courtesy Portland Museum of Art
As a nation, we spend a lot of time trying to puzzle out why our popular culture seems so crude and violent. Perhaps it’s because we’ve cut off access to refinement in the form of fine art and music.
Thank you, Ms. Konkel, for trying to reverse this trend. I like to imagine cliques of teenagers stopping by the Portland Museum to catch a movie. May many, many of them take advantage of your generosity.