The Portland Museum of Art may soon start to feel a little like a coffee shop with good art.
Thanks to a gift by Cape Elizabeth resident Susie Konkel, the museum is now free for anyone 21 and younger, and museum director Mark Bessire hopes that kids in the neighborhood choose the museum as a place to hang out, drink coffee and wander the galleries.
“The museum doesn’t need to be a special day. It’s every day,” he said. “We want them to experience the museum on their own terms. It’s something to do that’s safe and fun and different, and you can just hang out and drink coffee with your friends or look at art in the galleries. No one is trying to sell you anything, and we’re not looking for any information.”
The new admission policy became effective Wednesday, just in time for school vacation week.
Konkel, a longtime Maine resident and lifelong educator, made a gift to the museum’s endowment, enabling the museum to waive admission fees for anyone 21 and younger. In addition, the museum is offering, for free, the Susie Konkel Pass, which provides the holder opportunities to attend special events, including movies, and a deeper level of engagement with the museum community.
In the three weeks the pass has been available, 600 people have signed up, said Elizabeth Jones, the museum’s deputy director. “There’s demand and there’s interest,” she said. “This is a gift to the PMA and a gift to the community and beyond. It’s increasing access and taking away the barriers.”
The museum would not say how much money Konkel gave to the endowment, but Bessire said the overall endowment is worth about $40 million.
Admission to the museum was previously free to anyone 14 and younger, and is $10 for students with ID and $15 for adults. It will remain free to everyone after 4 p.m. Fridays. There are 14,000 school kids in Portland alone who could be impacted by Konkel’s gift, according to museum statistics.
Konkel said she made the gift to create the same access to arts and culture that she and her brother had while they were growing up near Washington, D.C. Their parents encouraged them to visit the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, she said. As an educator, she understands the importance of exposing kids to art and wanted to make it so kids anywhere could visit the museum, no matter their circumstances. Pass holders will have added benefits of special access and admission to certain events.
“Having a Susie Konkel Pass is beneficial for every child, not just from Maine, but from all over the world,” she said. “As a lifelong educator, it’s nice to know that anyone from preschool to high school can now go to any part of any gallery and look at art.”
Bessire said making the museum free to people 21 and younger fits the museum’s mission of creating access and taking away reasons people don’t visit.