One pass opens the doors to eight museums


BY Aline Reynolds

Art and history buffs can now delve into Lower Manhattan’s cultural milieu for cheaper, thanks to the new Downtown Culture Pass. A group of eight Downtown museums have banded together to pilot the program, which offers a discount on exhibits as well as a walking tour.

David Cowen, president and chief executive officer of the Museum of American Finance, spearheaded the program. He met last March with other local museum administrators to brainstorm ways of attracting patrons.

“A light bulb went off – we thought, ‘let’s ramp this up and get everybody together,’” said Cowen.

The pass grants adults, teens and children unlimited admission for $25, $15, and $5, respectively, for three consecutive days to participating museums. Attendance at each of the museum with the culture pass, Cowen noted, would cumulatively cost individuals over $70. The participants of the pilot program are the M.O.A.F., the Fraunces Tavern Museum, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the National Museum of the American Indian, the N.Y.C. Police Museum, the Skyscraper Museum, the Tribute W.T.C. Visitor Center and Wall Street Walks.

The participants are hoping to encourage overall tourism in the area, not just to their museums.

“The thing is that it keeps people down here to patronize the businesses,” said Jennifer Adams, chief executive officer of the Tribute W.T.C. Visitor Center. “And that really goes a long way in helping with the recovery of the area.”

Tourists can turn a daytrip into a full-fledged vacation, explained Elizabeth Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance, the Lower Manhattan business improvement district that is publicizing the pass.

“We’re delighted that our world-class museums and other attractions can showcase all that our district has to offer,” Berger said. She also pointed out that all the participating museums are located within one square mile, making it easy for culture pass users to visit more than one in a single day.

Walking from one museum to the next is also part of the experience.

“Tourists can learn more about the history and culture of Downtown even as they walk,” said Jeff Simmons, vice president for communications at the D.A.

Wall Street Walks owner and tour guide Annaline Dinkelmann gave reporters and other guests a sample walking tour of the journey a culture pass user would take to get from one museum to another. She mentioned several noteworthy relics along the way – Delmonico, which opened on Beaver Street in 1837, for example, was the first fine dining restaurant in the United States and the nearby Stone Street is one of the first cobblestone streets in the entire city.

Then there are the original bricks of the Fraunces Tavern Museum, at 54 Pearl Street, which date back to the 17th Century. And just up the street, on the corner of Pearl Street and Coenties Alley, lies a glass case containing pipes, musket balls and other artifacts from the old Dutch city, New Amsterdam, dating back to the 1600s. Though now eclipsed by skyscrapers, the Museum of the American Indian at One Bowling Green was once the tallest building in the neighborhood when it was built in the early 1900s. Prior to 1944, it was home to the U.S. Custom House.

In addition to the museums, other neighborhood organizations also contributed to the pilot program. The Travel Advisory Bureau, which promotes tourism in Lower Manhattan, pitched in $14,000 for four advertisements on the T.A.B. map that is placed in several Downtown hotels. The New York Water Taxi, a private sightseeing company, funded the production and distribution of the passes and accompanying brochures.

“This is a great innovation,” said Clive Burrow, chairman of the N.Y. T.A.B. who is headed to the United Kingdom to promote the pass to travelers coming to the city.

The cultural pass program began on November 4 and will end on February 28, 2011. Kristin Aguilera, deputy director of the M.O.A.F., said the museums might reinitiate the pass thereafter, depending on its initial success.