March 6, 2019 by: Debbie Meritsky and Marc Rotman
See them all with the North American Reciprocal Museum Program
If you read the previous post on Marc and Deb’s Tennessee adventure, you may have noticed that we tend to seek out a lot of museums. If you haven’t read that blog yet, what are you waiting for? I’ll stop writing for a few minutes so you can read it here and catch up to the rest of us. Quite a number of years ago, we learned of the North American Reciprocal Museum Associations, (NARM), through the Rockwell Museum of Western Art in Corning, NY, where Debbie was volunteering as a docent. In all honesty, it seemed to good to be true. NARM could not be any clearer with its acronym as to what the program is, but I’ll dig a little deeper to offer you the whole picture.
Begun in the 1980's by a small group of museums in Florida who were trying to work together, NARM was essentially coordinated by a group of volunteers. The current director, Virginia Phillippi, inherited the program in 2006 from the membership director at the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, and at that time there were 190 participating museums in the U.S. and Canada. Ms. Phillippi was the new membership manager at the Greenville County Museum of Art. By January 2013, with over 600 member museums, NARM was desperately needing a dedicated effort, which prompted Ms. Phillippi to go full time with her efforts to administrate the ever expanding program.
Today, with over 1000 participating museums across the continent, having membership benefits from a participating NARM museum is like being a member of every single museum, but without the financial outlay. That’s not to say that if you wanted to directly support each and every museum on the list we would discourage you, on the contrary, you would get the biggest “atta boy (or girl)” we could give you! Keep in mind, each museum has its own levels of membership, and to get the NARM benefits, you need to check with each institution to learn what level membership is necessary to qualify.
Over the years, we have used the NARM listing many times to help us plan the itinerary for a specific city or even an entire trip. As a result, we have visited NARM museums in many cities and states, and have found the museum staffs to be friendly, helpful, and in most cases, excited about the reciprocal program. In Birmingham, Alabama, we visited the Vulcan Park and Museum, and according to the volunteer at the admissions desk, we were the first to present our NARM membership at that newly included museum. We have also explored other museums that have been a part of NARM for a long time, like our “home” museum, the Johnson Museum of Art on the campus of Cornell University.
NARM isn’t usually the sole impetus to visit a place, but it certainly adds to any itinerary, and has led us to many fantastic museums that we may not have had awareness of without their participation in the reciprocal program. One that comes to mind is The Ringling in Sarasota, Florida, which is comprised of three venues, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, The Circus Museum, and Ca’d’Zan, the waterfront Ringling mansion. Your membership at the NARM level of the museum of your choice gets you free entry to both the Art Museum and the Circus Museum, which is a $25 value just for those two museums. The program doesn’t limit how many museums you can visit in a year, so as you can see, it’s really an amazing value.
If you have had an extraordinary experience at any of the museums, don’t be shy about dropping a little something in their donation box as you leave to help support that museum specifically. Considering the significant savings we have experienced over the years, we tend to leave a donation at most of the museums we visit on the program. There are many museums that are on the NARM list that offer free admission to the general public so your membership isn’t needed to gain access, but it may offer you a discount in the Gift Shop or at the Museum Café. It’s also important for the museum to know that you were led there by the museum’s inclusion in the NARM program, which helps them track the importance of their participation in the reciprocal program.
Now it’s time for you to become a member in one of your local NARM museums so you can get started with your very own exploration! Here in the Finger Lakes, we have seven NARM museums within a one-hour drive from the Inn. The best way to enjoy them is by selecting our Ultimate Finger Lakes Museum Pass Package here at the Black Sheep Inn and Spa. Details on the package can be found here.
You can find the full NARM listing at narmassociation.org
Marc and Deb