When you step inside a museum, you step into a whole new world. Timelines long forgotten come to life and unknown names take on new importance.
Every museum unlocks a piece of the past but the story never seems to be complete. With each additional visit, you leave more informed yet more curious than before, itching for something extra.
Luckily, SoCal Museums’ Free-for-All aims to satisfy that itch.
On Jan. 25, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, and Santa Barbara Historical Museum will open their doors and invite visitors to attend free of charge. Part of the SoCal 15th annual Free-for-All, the institutions are just three of more than 40 museums throughout Southern California waiving admissions.
“Free-for-All celebrates museum-going,” said Jennifer Callabero, SoCal Museums president. “It reminds people at the beginning of the year that they have great resources right in their backyards.”
SoCal Museums is a collective focused on collaboration. Encouraging communication and relationships down the coast, the organization uses cross-promotion and joint events like Free-for-All to spark museum interest.
This will the Museum of Natural History’s third year with SoCal Museums, and the Museum of Art’s 10th.
“I’m happy that so many Santa Barbara locations have joined us this year,” said Ms. Callabero. “This way, we can integrate some of the museums that people go to every year with some that are brand new.”
When SoCal Museums began, it included no more than a few marketing executives from four institutions in Los Angeles. Together, the Getty, Japanese American Museum, Skirball Cultural Center and Autry Museum formed the Museums Marketing Roundtable.
Fifteen years later, the organization has grown to include institutions from Palm Springs all the way down to Irvine.
“(Our museums) came together to face some of the problems we all face,” said Ms. Callabero. “For a lot of these places, whether their admission is small or large, events like Free-for-All removes barriers.”
Attracting anyone from families with smaller kids to teenagers and college students, Free-for-All has seen upwards of 100,000 visitors in previous years. This time around, organizers hope to make just as much of an impact, if not more.
Locally, Briana Sapp Tivey, director of marketing and communications for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, noticed an opportunity to widen that impact in Santa Barbara.
“I was just scrolling through Facebook, and I saw something about this one day a year when all the museums in L.A. are free,” said Ms. Sivey. “It wasn’t until I started doing research that I knew we had to get involved.
“Santa Barbara is such a small community but so rich culturally,” continued Ms. Sivey. “Visitors see we’re a part of this network, and it opens them up to see what else is out there.”
People farther south may not be aware of museums in Santa Barbara, but Free-for-All opens up a whole slew of opportunities. Suddenly, day trips and destinations previously overlooked seem within reach.
This publicity comes just in time for the Museum of Natural History, which recently completed over $20 million in renovations. For new visitors and longtime patrons, the museum hopes to create a long lasting impression.
“We want people to realize Santa Barbara is truly a biological hotspot,” said Ms. Sivey. “We have some of the richest biodiversity in the world. That’s what makes our museum and our community unique.”
Making Santa Barbara’s history better known both far and wide, Free-for-All has also made a noticeable impact on the popularity of the Museum of Art, which joined SoCal Museums in 2011.
“We definitely see a spark in admissions during those particular days,” said Katrina Carl, the museum’s public relations manager.
While events like Free-for-All invite more interest, that’s only one part of the equation. Ms. Carl hopes that guests who come for the free admission stay for what they experience.
“I want them to come back,” said Ms. Carl. “These types of free days encourage accessibility. Anytime that we can gain a new visitor interested in art, culture, history or science is a really good thing.”