Walmart heir Alice Walton’s foundation Art Bridges is giving 64 museums across the U.S. a total of $40 million in grants, ranging from $56,000 to more than $2 million each.
Recipients of the “Access for All” initiative, as the grant program is called, include the Wichita Art Museum, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University. Art Bridges chose recipients by looking at their annual operating expenses and admission costs, and will make the funds available over the next three years.
“I think that there are a lot of repercussions in terms of mental health and stability for people coming out of the pandemic,” Walton told NPR. “So I really see this as a crucial point in time where we all need to figure out everything we can do to create that access.”
Ideally, she said, that would mean free museum admission for all, but for now she hopes the funding will help museums attract new audiences, however it is spent.
“Of course, we would like our museum to be free,” María C. Gaztambide, executive director of Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, one of the grant recipients, told NPR. “But we can’t with the kind of energy bills that we face each month.”
With the money from Art Bridges, Museo de Arte plans to expand its weekly free admission hours—currently just part of the day on Thursdays—and to create monthly family days. Other Access for All museums might consider offering free meals as a way to attract guests.
The Howard University Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which is already free, plans to launch an interdisciplinary fine arts festival as well as bilingual programming, as a way of raising its profile in the local community.
Many museums have struggled to regain their pre-pandemic attendance figures, with a recent survey from the American Alliance of Museums finding that visitor numbers are still down about 30 percent at two-thirds of institituions since 2019.