People are going to museums again

Kobo, the 66-foot blue whale skeleton, on display at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Mass.

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Steve Chiotakis: There's that old negative connotation about museums: they're musty, old and boring. But nowadays, there's a positive one: cheap. And that's giving museums a boost in this downward economy. From WBUR in Boston, Curt Nickisch reports.


Curt Nickisch: The Harvard Museum of Natural History is about as old school as they come: brick building, tall ceilings, and lots of dead animals in glass cases.

Little girl: Oh look at that big mouse, mom!

Other little girl: And look, a flying squirrel.

Alison and Leanna Cameron are here with their mom, Mary. She brought them not only for the stuffed rodents, she wanted to keep her pocketbook stuffed.

Mary Cameron: We did come on Wednesday afternoon because it's free to get in from 3 to 5. It certainly was a factor.

Cameron is part of a growing number of people searching out museums lately for their low cost, even with admission. After all, the average entry fee nationwide is seven bucks a head.

Elisabeth Werby runs this Harvard museum and says the number of visitors here is up 10 percent so far this year:

Elisabeth Werby: Because people realize museums are of value in this economy. They find inspiration, education and fun for a relatively low price. And we're happy to provide that.

And the trend is happening nationally. The American Association of Museums has been happy to see a boost in attendance after years of declines. Especially now, when many museum endowments have plummeted. That's what happened to the whaling museum in New Bedford, Mass.

Whaling Museum Tour Guide: This first one is a humpback. The next one, do you know what this one is? This is the largest . . .

Tours are fuller this year, with 8 percent more visitors. The whaling museum is trying to ride that wave to improve [ its finances. Here's vice president Kristen Sniezek:

Kristen Sniezek: We decided to take a risk and offer free admission not only to our students, but also to family members that live in the New Bedford area. And we were packed. It worked quite well.

Gift store sales were up $3,000 during the promotion. But Sniezek is gambling on a bigger payback. She's hoping those families will come back again soon -- maybe join as members, make a donation, possibly rent the place out for a special event. She says that's where the real revenue is for museums.

In Boston, I'm Curt Nickisch, for Marketplace.

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