This is a time of year when many people join or renew art museum memberships, or receive them as gifts.
Most art museums offer membership at various levels, each of which comes with perks to encourage the purchase of more expensive membership levels.
What’s not always obvious is that some of those levels often include membership in a reciprocal museum program. These allow your museum membership to grant you admission — and often bookshop discounts and other perks — at numerous other museums and institutions that participate in the same program.
If you like to travel and visit other museums, particularly small regional ones, this can be a tremendous value.
The largest of these programs is the North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM), which offers reciprocal privileges to over 900 institutions in North America. Not all of these are art museums, of course, but many may be of interest and they can even include institutions like arboretums and formal gardens.
The next largest program of which I’m aware is ROAM, the Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums, with a smaller list, but one that may pertain to museums in which you’re interested.
Another, small but relevant program is the Art Museum Reciprocal Network. This seems to be less of an organization than an informal agreement between the participating museums. The list of participating museums also seems to vary between institutions and membership levels. (For example, joining this network through the Philadelphia Museum of Art includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the list, joining the same network through the Delaware Art Museum does not, though both PMA and DAM offer admission privileges to each other.}
There are also regional programs in the west and south of the US. Many museums are participants in more than one program, so there can be some overlap; others are only on one program.
In all cases, if you are interested, check the asterisks, footnotes and small print before joining. There are limitations and conditions, in particular, limitations about excluding museums within a certain mile radius of the issuing institution.
ROAM has a 25 mile limit, inside which reciprocal memberships do not apply; NARM has individual restrictions of varying milage (from 15 to 90) on some institutions, limited either by the issuing museum of the one being visited. There are other limitations at various museums for bookstore privileges, special events, and certain special exhibitions.
Given those conditions, it may actually be advantageous to join through a museum outside your area, but I prefer to support museums I visit regularly.
It’s also worth shopping around on the membership pages of the individual museums to see which museums offer membership in the reciprocal organizations at the lowest membership level cost. This can vary quite a bit between museums for the same reciprocal network. It’s up to each participating institution to set their own membership cost level in which to include the reciprocal membership as a benefit.
We have a membership to both the Brandywine River Museum of Art and the Delaware Art Museum at the reciprocal membership level, which gives us membership at a reasonable price point in NARM through the Brandywine, and both ROAM and the Art Museum Reciprocal Network through the DAM. It also supports two small but superb regional museums that we visit often.