UICA Executive Director Miranda Krajniak is giving the community an early Christmas present with new admission fees that will make the venue accessible to low-income adults and children.
On Nov. 1, the UICA began offering $1 admission prices to anyone who could present an EBT card. Krajniak said this initiative has a very personal meaning for her.
“I come from a lower-class background and I did not have access to the arts when I was growing up,” she said. “I see kids come into UICA and see these kids experience art. It was never something that was available to me.
“I didn’t take my first art class until I was in high school. I just really took to it and loved the freedom of expression and I knew right away I would be an artist. I knew the arts was something I could use to better myself and make a career.”
The UICA initiative is part of a national program called Museums for All, which was originally started at children’s museums throughout the United States, including the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. It has now expanded to include the Flint Museum of Art.
“We are now in our 40th year and we are looking to expand our audience and bring in new people,” Krajniak said. “We wanted to find ways to make the UICA more accessible for people with financial difficulties. It is costing us something with overhead, but it’s worth it.”
Investments in the arts need to be looked at as just that, said Kristin Armstrong, executive director of the Saugatuck Center for the Arts.
Armstrong said there are price tags attached to any form of entertainment or experience, and for people who have to choose between paying a utility bill or buying food, the cost of admission to an event or activity is well beyond their reach. When this happens, it puts a whole group of children at a disadvantage.
“Ultimately, those children grow up to be potential employees or members of the community,” Armstrong said. “If we as a community can find ways to make those opportunities available to our children and ourselves, we are doing a service.”
Throughout the year, SCA offers free programs to children — particularly those living in rural areas who come from financially challenged circumstances — including a free film festival that last year served about 2,800 children, as well as an exhibition focusing on Potawatomi culture that brought in an artist to work with children who created their own works of art, now on display at SCA.
In addition, there is a Growing Young Artists program for the children of migrant workers living in surrounding communities such as Fennville and South Haven.
Armstrong said the arts is a huge umbrella that includes dance, live music and exhibitions.
“What we see at SCA, especially with children, are the soft skills they learn like problem solving, collaboration, teamwork, empathy and communication skills. All of those things are crucial now for employment in today’s innovation economy,” she said. “Soft skills are taught really well through the arts.”
Many of the SCA programs are a collaborative effort with area schools.
“With the children’s film festival, we survey teachers and ask what topics or subjects they want to have in that film mix,” Armstrong said. “We’re also building curriculum to use pre- or post- festival.”
About 75 percent of the SCA’s children’s programming is free.
“By and large, we’re talking about schools and families that are economically challenged. We need to raise money from foundations and businesses that will invest, so children can have those opportunities,” Armstrong said. “The more we can do to eliminate any barriers, (that) benefits all of us. The desire is that we invite people to participate and not have them worry about whether they can afford it.”
Krajniak said she knows firsthand about the importance of leveling the playing field. She said access to the arts enhances problem-solving skills and increases empathy, and access to venues like the UICA raises the comfort level for children and adults who may have never been in a museum before.
She especially likes the idea that a person with an EBT card can present that card just like a UICA member, which removes any stigma about financial circumstances, something she experienced waiting in a separate free lunch line at school.
“Your financial circumstances should not distinguish who you are,” she said. “I think it’s important to provide these opportunities and not let your financial situation define opportunities in your life.”