Blue Star Museums Offer Free Admission to Military Families

BY Madeline Orton, Arts Correspondent |

Old Barracks’ historical interpreter, Bob Butera, with Marines Photo credit: Old Barracks Museum.

Quality time is a precious commodity for military families, a fact that Blue Star Families, an organization created by military families to support one another, connect and empower, knows all too well. In 2010, Blue Star Families collaborated with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Department of Defense, and museums nationwide to launch the Blue Star Museums initiative, offering free admission to all active duty, National Guard and Reserve military personnel and their families from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

New Jersey makes up 31 of the over 2,000 museums participating across the country this year with offerings from Cape May to Clifton.

Historic Cold Spring Village in Cape May has long offered active duty military free admission to the living history museum. Now, as a participant of Blue Star Museums, free admission is extended to military families all summer long.

“We’ve always had military personnel who have come in here for free, that’s been standard procedure, but not necessarily their families,” explained Historic Cold Spring Village Executive Director Anne Salvatore.

Salvatore sees a visit to Historic Cold Spring Village as the ideal way of teaching children about the history of the country their family members are serving. “Most times, history is taught in the class … They’re not excited about it. It’s from another time, it has no interest for them. When you come to an open-air living history museum, the past comes to life.”

At Trenton’s Old Barracks Museum, these history lessons have an applied purpose year-round. “Multiple times a year, the Army and the Marines bring training units here. Some of them actually walk the actual route that the Army took from Washington’s Crossing to the Battle of Trenton,” Executive Director Richard Patterson shared. “Others are doing the Battle of Trenton as what they call a ‘staff ride,’ where different members of the unit take different positions of different commanders and so on, and use it as their tactical problems.”

For the most part though, the museum visits are not about work. As Mark Albin, Deputy Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the Newark Museum pointed out, museums can also be a place of refuge for those on leave. “When you come into a museum environment and are exposed to these beautiful works of art — these masterpieces — it’s sort of like the perfect antidote for stress.”

For families, the National Endowment for the Arts believes museums offer a day trip that is educational and bonding. “The nature of the experience and the quality of the experience is what’s unique about this program,” said Wendy Clark, Acting Director of the NEA’s Museums, Indemnity & Visual Arts, adding that museum visits are ideal for families being relocated to a base in an area that’s new to them.

In addition to the quality time and education these Blue Star Museums offer for the summer months, staff members hope the connection to the past will provide comfort and support in the future.

“Beyond the offering of complimentary admission to active duty military as part of the Blue Star program,” Albin shared, “We’ve also created a special tour to engage them and show them how the arts have paid tribute to men and women in uniform throughout time and throughout the world.”

Patterson hopes the Old Barracks Museum helps military personnel see themselves as part of that history. “For our soldiers who are going to be putting themselves in harm’s way, if we can help them connect with these heroes that we put on pedestals from the past, let them know that they’re part of this continuum and someday they will be looked at the same way we look at the soldiers from the Revolution, if that’ll help them get through a bad day, well that’s great.”