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Great Art Goes Free

Santa Barbara Museum of Art Announces New Free-Admission Policies


GIVE IT TO ME, BABY: The toughest decisions in the culture industry right now revolve around price and frequency. The market has become very demanding in regard to how often it expects new content (which is often) and how much it is willing to pay for it (which is often nothing). Into this challenging environment steps an unlikely but potent combatant in the form of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1130 State St., 966-6840, sbmuseart.org), which has just announced two new programs designed to meet the sometimes startling price and frequency demands of a new century.

Through a new partnership with JPMorgan Chase Bank, the Museum will be open free of charge to all comers every Thursday night from 5-8 p.m.. SBMA chose Thursday evenings in response to the findings of a recent market research study that discovered that the public would most like to be able to use the museum at no charge on that particular night.

Speaking with SBMA director Larry Feinberg at the free Thursday on September 6, I discovered that the JPMorgan Chase deal was only the beginning. “We have taken it on ourselves to make the museum 100-percent free all the time for three specific populations — teachers, students, and members of the United States Armed Forces,” said Feinberg, adding that “this includes all area college students and professors, as well.” He said the decision was based on a feeling that these groups deserve to come to SBMA any time they want without having to worry about paying an admission fee.

The announcement of these two extremely generous new programs comes at a time when the museum has stepped up its curatorial output to unprecedented levels. Feinberg has unleashed a tidal wave of initiative and creativity within his curatorial staff, and the general quality of the work has never been higher, especially in the fast-moving fields of photography and contemporary art. This Thursday, September 13, multimedia artist Brian Bress will be present to screen Creative Ideas for Every Season, a 2010 video he made that fits in nicely with the “Interventions” flat-screen projection panels he has had installed in various locations throughout the museum this summer.

In addition to bringing his work, Bress is bringing his friends, the indie rock band Mad Gregs, who will perform in the museum’s courtyard. Everything about this amazing night is free, except for the food and beer, which will be available for a reasonable price. Sounds like a party.

STREET-SCENE SHOTS: While you are enjoying the SBMA for free, don’t forget to check out the excellent new photography show called Doug Busch: Scene On the Street, which will be on view until December 2. Busch, who trained with Ansel Adams, is a fascinating and, until now, underappreciated gem of the 1980s photo scene. Using a giant camera of his own devising (this polymath is also both an inventor and a designer), Busch took a series of shots, many in his adopted hometown of Denver, that combine the extravagant silver-chloride, large-format printing techniques of such nature photographers as Adams with the streetwise, subtly subversive subjects of a Robert Frank. It’s stylish, it’s highly polished, and it’s alive with generous helpings of underground sensibility. Check out his widescreen portrait of a young hustler leaning against the Denver Museum of Art. There’s nothing else quite like it in contemporary photography.

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