Why won't the Dalí Museum play nice? Maybe it's suffering from some of the late Spanish surrealist's famed narcissism? Maybe it's a little too insulated in that hurricane-proof fortress? Whatever it is, the Dalí should rethink its decision to take its NARM ball and go home.
What is NARM? It stands for the North American Reciprocal Museum program. Not to exaggerate, but it's about the best invention for art and culture lovers since pigmented oil paint was put into tubes. When you are a member of a museum at the NARM level, which varies by institution but reflects a contribution of at least $100 annually, you are granted access to about 400 museums in North America, including many in Canada, as if you are a member of that museum.
I use my NARM card regularly at local museums and wherever I travel, including recently at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where I was really glad I didn't have to pay admission. Walking through Ken Lum's Mirror Maze with 12 Signs of Depression was more eye-rolling than eye-opening, and so went the rest of the museum experience.
Anyway, back to the Dalí. I bought my annual $160 NARM membership through the Dalí for my husband and me in June. With it I was promised free entry to nearly every other major art and cultural museum in the Tampa Bay area, including the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), where I go regularly to attend art lectures.
Well, no more. Earlier this month, the Dalí museum decided to stop granting reciprocal privileges to other museums within a 50-mile radius. The decision means that NARM members of the Tampa Museum of Art, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts and other museums within an hour's drive won't be allowed into the Dalí without paying. Of course, a number of local museums instantly imposed the same restriction on Dalí NARM members — and who could blame them? Now, no longer will I be freely admitted to the Museum of Fine Arts a few blocks away.
Though you wouldn't know it from the understated way it was announced, this is a major breach of the benefits promised. The museum sent out an email blast to its members declaring that NARM benefits "will slightly change beginning on Dec. 15." Since when is "slightly" a synonym for "significantly?"
Apparently, the Dalí board didn't like that it was losing money on other museums' NARM members. But this cold calculation is too narrow. What the Dalí lost on admission may have been made up through gift shop and cafe sales as well as on local NARM members bringing paying out-of-town guests. That's how I use NARM. When friends come to visit I sweep them through the area's great art venues, but only because I don't have to pay admission of up to $25 to revisit each collection.
Then there is the squandering of goodwill. Tampa Bay's arts community is vibrant but small. Museums should be cooperating to expand audience and accessibility, not squabbling in a high-brow tit-for-tat. The Dalí may think it's special, but its leaders weren't too proud to beg $5 million from Pinellas County and the city to help them complete construction on their new building. Those public dollars should buy something beyond a shut door for supporters of neighboring arts and cultural institutions, even as out-of-area NARM members are welcome. I tried to get a response to these concerns from the Dalí but multiple attempts went unanswered.
As a matter of principle I've asked the Dalí to cancel my membership. I want to support another local arts museum with a NARM-level membership, but the Dalí's 50-mile policy is forcing me to look to museums in Miami or even in another state; otherwise my NARM card won't be universally honored. This is just another way the Dalí's parochial policy will hurt the community. It should reconsider. Playing nice won't cost that much, and it will bring substantial other rewards.