By Max Weintraub, President and CEO, Allentown Art Museum
(as it appeared in the Morning Call, August 14, 2022)

Beginning August 27, 2022, the Allentown Art Museum will no longer charge admission. Thanks to a transformative legacy gift from the Century Fund and the extraordinary generosity of Lehigh Valley Health Network as well as City Center Allentown and J. B. and Kathleen Reilly, we are able to achieve this momentous milestone in our ongoing efforts to eliminate barriers to entry and ensure that everyone in our community has access to the Museum and its educational programming, in perpetuity.

AAM President & CEO, Max Weintraub

One of the special things to me about the Allentown Art Museum is how much of its history is rooted in the idea of community. Walter Emerson Baum and the other civic-minded leaders founded the Museum during the depths of the Great Depression because they believed that it was important to ensure public access to our artistic and cultural heritage. A few decades later, businessman and native son Samuel H. Kress gifted dozens of Renaissance and baroque masterworks to the Museum, motivated by a similar belief that such masterpieces belonged to the public trust and should always be accessible. As stewards of the Museum today, it is humbling to be able to expand upon this legacy by ensuring that art remains free to all, forever. I think it’s fair to say that August 27 will be one of the most significant steps yet in the Museum’s nearly ninety-year history toward fulfilling the ideals upon which it was founded.

For too many in our community, the cost of admission to an engaging cultural experience like a visit to the Art Museum can be a real barrier, especially for families. More than a quarter of households in Allentown live below the poverty line, so removing the financial barrier to access to the Museum is really an issue of equity. By permanently removing admission fees, it is my hope that everyone will now have the opportunity to experience the Museum’s world-class art collection and educational programming, and that the Museum can truly become a resource for all.

August 27 will also mark another important milestone: the opening of the New American Galleries. Since the start of summer, several of the Museum’s main-floor galleries have been closed for renovation. This renovation marks the first significant changes to the Museum’s permanent collection galleries in more than a decade. When they open on August 27, the New American Galleries will showcase recent acquisitions—including new works by local artists that have never been on display—and highlight African American, Afro-Latinx, Latinx, Central and South American, Indigenous, and women artists in the galleries to a degree never seen before.

Moreover, a third of the 148 works on view will be changed out every six months, ensuring that the galleries remain dynamic spaces of discovery and learning, and all of the wall labels and other interpretive texts will be bilingual in both Spanish and English.

In short, this reinstallation will present a more diverse and inclusive narrative and allow us to better tell the complex and inherently diverse story of American art. To achieve this, the Museum’s curatorial department worked with local artists, community leaders, and other stakeholders to gather feedback about which artworks to feature and to help refine key themes and strategies for reinterpreting the work. The goal: to help ensure that our audience will be able to experience the art in ways that are relevant and meaningful to their lives.

Art Ways Interactive Family Gallery

In addition to the major changes to the Museum’s admission policy and New American Galleries, we are continually working to improve access and enrich the overall visitor experience in small but meaningful ways. We recently quadrupled the number of free parking spots available for visitors to the Museum, and this fall we will be introducing sensory-friendly hours so that neurodivergent members of the community and their families will have dedicated time each month to enjoy the Museum’s collection when the galleries are less busy and when noise and light levels are reduced.

These recent changes and those yet to come are only possible with your support. Of course, we are able to offer free admission to all because of the Century Fund, Lehigh Valley Health Network, and City Center Allentown and J. B. and Kathleen Reilly. But going admission-free isn’t the end of the Museum’s efforts to serve our community. Rather, it’s just the beginning. We are always striving to make the Museum a more accessible institution for the more than 60,000 visitors who walk through the Museum’s doors each year.

It is an honor and a privilege to be the president and CEO of the Art Museum as we undertake some of the most important changes yet in our history. With your support, we will be able to continue to offer dynamic exhibitions and timely and relevant educational programming so that we can remain a vital cultural resource in the Lehigh Valley.