Museums and the Parking Business

Milwaukee’s United Performing Arts Fund “Ride for the Arts” happened along the gorgeous lakefront this weekend. Included was a Milwaukee Art Museum team of bicycle riders including staff, members, friends, family, and neighbors who woke up early on a Sunday morning to ride 25 miles in support of the arts.

To be honest, I joined the ride because it’s fun. But the lines between work and play can blur very easily for non-profit professionals, so I’m going to put on my Director of Visitor Services hat and talk to you a little bit about how I see bicycles, cars, and all things public access.

Because “parking” is a part of my job description at the Milwaukee Art Museum. If you had asked me when I was studying printmaking at the Lamar Dodd School of Art if I would ever spend my career assessing parking spaces for cars and bicycles, fretting over bus schedules, and making sure our Museum’s online communication about transportation is clear, I would have laughed.

Even now, I ask myself, “Should museums be in the parking business?”

Milwaukee Art Museum’s underground parking garage. Photo by Mel Buchanan.

I’m pretty sure I went on record with this statement at the recent American Associations of Museums annual meeting in Minneapolis. Literally, I lose sleep over this question. (Sad, but true.) What I come to time and time again is the conclusion that, yes, Museums should be in the parking business. Here’s why:

You cannot see art if you cannot get here.

You cannot breathe in the residual paint fumes on a Picasso original if you literally cannot get here.

Your children cannot show you their favorite sculpture from a class field trip if you can’t afford to park your car (may I suggest a carpool?)

Rich, poor, young or old, to have the experience of an art museum, you’ve got to find a way to reach your destination. The Museum has a responsibility to you, the visitor. We have to make sure you can get here comfortably and safely. Should you choose to ride a tandem bicycle with your lover or pull up in your electric scooter, we want you here. We’ll give you a free wheelchair by request when you walk through the doors or loan you a stroller to push around your kids. If the elevator breaks, we will escort you down an alternate path.

I should add the disclaimer that a Museum cannot be all things to all people. So, if you get a parking ticket because you didn’t pay the meter, please be patient. If someone steals your fancy new bicycle reflector, let it go. If you bruise your knee, ask us for a band-aid. Consider your patience and cooperation a gift to your fellow art lovers or to yourself.

Spend a day at the Milwaukee Art Museum or spend a morning riding 25 miles to raise money and awareness for the United Performing Arts Fund. We’re all in this together.

Museum staff participating in the 2012 UPAF “Ride for the Arts”. Photo by Theofilos Rafaelidys.

This parking business is our business.

-Caitlin Martell, Director of Visitor Services

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4 Responses to Museums and the Parking Business

  1. KDM says:

    Thank you for this blog post – reading this post I realized that the museum I work at does not have a place to lock up a bicycle . . . hmmmm . . . what does this say? KDM

  2. J. Green says:

    Calatrava would agree. Everything begins with transportation.

  3. Caitlin martell says:

    Access is an ongoing challenge. We faced some literal traffic barriers this weekend but facebook feedback (including live footage of aerial dancers performing in Windhover Hall) indicates Family Sunday was a great success. Nevertheless, employees and visitors reported difficulty accessing the building during Saturday and Sunday morning. I put this out: What frustrations do you face in trying to get to your own destinations?

  4. Yury kabakov says:

    I leave in IL but we go to MAM quite often & yes I park my car in that fantastic parking & take a glass elevator up. It’s part of the trip.
    More to that. Each time we have friends from all over the wold in our house we take them to CALATRAVA MUSEUM & yes we start the gided tour from this beautiful parking.
    Never seen any parking ever resemble anything like that. I also suggest to visit the museum store that was designed by Calatrava. Very detail there is beautiful.

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