Despite the association of Austinites with art culture, art museums remain inaccessible to disadvantaged residents. To preserve the city’s artsy reputation, the Blanton Museum of Art maintains free admission every Thursday and extends its hours to 9 p.m. every third Thursday of the month.
The Blanton celebrated its first third Thursday of the new year with a museum tour detailing the ways in which artists persuade their audiences, concerts from local and visiting composers and a discussion later in the evening concerning artists roles as agents of change.
Local photographer and retired Austin Independent School District educator Sue Cole said she saw the advertisement for the Persuasion tour on Facebook and wanted to go walking somewhere it wasn’t quite so cold.
Cole said she also works as an educator with the Travis County Underage Drinking Prevention Task Force and has seen the benefit of community outreach done by the Blanton.
“Sometimes it can be intimidating to go onto a campus when you don’t really feel like you’re a part of that community, especially if you’re a person of color or your family is from low-income,” Cole said. “Blanton has actually done some wonderful programs out in the neighborhoods to kind of encourage people to think of Blanton as their community, as their home.”
The Blanton also hosts family programs which encourage “close looking” at the art, nurture children’s curiosity and give parents the opportunity to collaborate creatively with their children. The upcoming programs include Explore UT and the Blanton Block Party, as well as creative events in the fall.mAs an educator, Cole said she sees the value of free admission days for schools, as they provide low-cost field trips for local students.
“There’s a lot of kids who are in school today, but there’s a huge homeschool community of kids who could be down here,” Cole said. “I know the schools take advantage, sometimes, of field trips here.”
Third Thursday also provides an escape from everyday life for couples like Jeff Schald and his partner Marz.
“Civic spaces aren’t always so welcoming when you think about government,” Marz said. “Some people go to churches, some people go to parks, some people go to museums. But we don’t have that many recreational civic spaces. Obviously, we’ve got the jail and the courthouse. This is a nice getaway in terms of a civic space that’s enjoyable.”
Schald said the free admission was a large draw for their attendance, and he was looking forward to spending time in a space devoted to introspection.
“I think the free admission makes a difference,” Schald said. “It allows better access, and also encourages people who could afford to get in, but don’t (go to
Marz also said she believes opportunities like third Thursday offers Austin residents the chance to see beyond the city limits without ever leaving their zip code. Visitors of the museum were not the only people who said they saw the value of free admission to disadvantaged populations. Art senior Dana Suleymanova, who works as a gallery attendant with the Blanton, said she thinks more museums should have opportunities like third Thursday.
“I think not charging people can bring in different groups of people who are maybe socioeconomically disenfranchised, and they get a chance to look at the works in the collection,” Suleymanova said. “I just enjoy art, and I think a lot more people should be
exposed to it.”