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This New Program Gives New York City Residents Free Entry to 33 Museums

The Whitney Museum of American Art entrance in New York on Sept. 9, 2016. AndreaAstes/Getty Images

New York has joined a growing list of other U.S. cities with libraries that offer free passes to museums and botanical gardens.

The passes are a particular bargain in a city where adult tickets have soared to $25 at several of the most popular museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

If you’re a resident of one of the five boroughs and you have a library card, you can soak up all that culture for free under a new program called Culture Pass — which will grant access to 33 cultural institutions in the city.

The New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library announced this week that the passes can be reserved online — and were promptly deluged by requests, causing the Culture Pass website to crash, said Queens Library spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon.

The site was up and running again after the first day, and people have since been snatching up reservations to the historical, cultural and art museums and gardens on the list. They span all five boroughs and include diverse offerings such as the New York Transit Museum, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

The program’s cultural destinations are donating 58,000 passes a year, and the libraries have a grant from three foundations to administer the program.

A new batch of about 5,000 passes will be released on the first of every month, said Fritzi Bodenheimer, a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn Public Library. So reserving early seems to be a better strategy than waiting.

Just enter your library card barcode number and pin on the Culture Pass website and either print the passes on your computer or show them on your cellphone when you get to the museum or garden.

Patrons 13 and older can call dibs through the website up to two months in advance, and each one-day pass will admit two to four people, depending on the institution.

If your favorite museum or garden isn’t on the list, check back in the next few months because the program intends to add more. Libraries across the country offer similar passes to museums in their areas, so check with your branch for the local rules.

A welcome side effect of Culture Pass is that the libraries have seen an increase in applications for new library cards. Queens, which has about 800,000 cardholders, had more than 400 sign-ups on Monday — the first day for Culture Pass — a 37% increase compared with the previous Monday, de Bourbon said. The New York Public Library, with 2 million cardholders, received more than 2,000 new card applications online Monday — seven times more than usual, spokeswoman Nora Lyons said.

“We’re thrilled that so many people are taking advantage of the passes and… becoming cardholders,” de Bourbon said. “It’s a great entry point to New York City’s libraries and to their cultural institutions.”

Susan Jacobson is an editor at The Penny Hoarder.

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