Toot’s Freed Feb.

5 02 2008

The Art Institute of Chicago dropped a big banner down its front: free admission for the whole month of February. Happy Valentine’s Day thousand years of art inside! It has completely changed the mood of the place. The price of a grown-up ticket had gotten to be a non-negotiable $12 or so unless you bought a membership.

There are crowd’s now in Free Feb but there were always crowds. These free crowds feel different. There are more people who drop in on their own, they passed, saw, decided, they made an independent action, they got a quiet moment to themselves. Or they’re looking deep into a picture with one or two friends.

Before free Feb, impossible to know for sure of course, there was more an air of premeditation about the people inside the Toot. They had planned, organized to be here. They came to see pictures out of some sense of a well-organized, well-planned life, etc. etc.

It is by now transparent that plan “b” never liked museums charging admission, especially whopping big admissions.

In truth, plan “b” misses the museum experience of 30 or 40 years ago: big drafty, deserted places, free, with barely any guards and no invisible lasers-of-death to keep the Godzilla Public from sticking its snout too close to genius.

Anybody who wanted in could come in and not be bothered.

The Toot’s free Feb. feels as close to that as can be in the post-marketing age society in “what may well be the start of a recession” (translation: the depression).

Since Americans are fond of historical lessons that begin with “Once upon a time, the Found(l)ing Fathers…” we could even tell one like that about the Art Institute, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Once upon a time, the Art Institute’s founders dug a lot of cash out of their own pockets, and hung their own cheaply acquired impressionist collections in a new museum that would be open to the public, open to the people, open to the workers, to uplift them and soothe their beleaguered minds and give them good feelings about the “bourgeois benevolence” that gave them free Sunday afternoon uplift before they went back to the factory on Monday.

The Art Institute’s fin-de-siecle beginnings notwithstanding, plan “b” heartily endorses free Feb. and hopes that other museums and then the movie theatres and concert halls feel so inspired to lower their own ticket prices.

If indeed we are “at the beginning of a recession” (see above), it becomes essential to preserve these semi-public spaces, our meeting places for culture and entertainment. If the battered economy leads to free culture zones and cheaper entertainment where more “diverse” (i.e. people with more money as well as less money, “race” is not the only criterion for “diversity”) crowd can see and be seen, have a laugh together, relax a little for crying out loud.

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