Two-year-old Raine Brennan-Lambert appears to be in deep thought. Inside a quiet café in Back Bay, Linda Brennan waits for her daughter to name her favorite dinosaur.
After a few beats, the toddler clad in a pink coat and matching snow pants replies, “Rex!” She saw a model of a Tyrannosaurus rex at the Museum of Science. These days, it's one of the family's favorite destinations.
The museum’s admission price of $28 for adults and $23 for kids starting at age 3 isn't cheap. But for Brennan and others who have an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card — provided to the more than 760,000 people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — admission and admission for up to three additional guests is free as part of the EBT Card to Culture program that aims to expand access to the arts, humanities and sciences.
The program facilitates reduced or free admission for families of limited means to attend many of Massachusetts' esteemed institutions including the Boston’s Children’s Museum, the New England Aquarium and the Peabody Essex Museum.
For Brennan, who attends the science museum almost weekly, that’s a savings of $112 per month. Brennan budgets everything and considers the EBT Card to Culture offerings a great help. She says, "As a low-income person it makes things so much easier. You don't feel stressed going, 'I can't bring her to do this, I can't bring her to do that, she really wants to go, and I can't do it.' "
The EBT Card to Culture push, made possible through a partnership between the Mass. Cultural Council (MCC) and the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), launched in the summer of 2017. (It's a trend popping up in other states across the nation as well.) The seed was planted by the Boston Children’s Museum in 2012 when they reached out to the DTA to advertise an existing discount. Soon, other organizations followed suit.
In the year and a half since it started, the EBT Card to Culture has provided 258,431 lower-income people with free or discounted admission to cultural organizations, according to MCC data. By the end of the first year of the program, there were 153 organization participating, according to the MCC. Now, there are 161. (Interested organizations can sign up for the EBT Card to Culture program quarterly. The next deadline is March 31.)
For the Boston Children’s Museum, EBT Card to Culture users represent 5 percent of overall attendance, shared Jo-Anne Baxter, director of public relations at the Boston Children’s Museum, up from 0.73 percent in 2012.
One of the ongoing challenges with this program is ensuring those eligible know it exists.
“This is one of our newest programs, so awareness is one of our main priorities,” said Carmen Plazas, communications manager at MCC, in an email. “We encourage all cultural organizations and EBT card holders to participate.”
Brennan says she heard about the program through word of mouth — and makes a point to tell others about it.
Each week, she shows up to the Boston Children’s Museum to lead a breastfeeding group. At this museum, the dinosaurs are also Raine's favorite. Brennan said as soon as they approach, Raine asks to see the “Explore-a-Saurus” exhibit inside.
It’s this excitement for science and for art in general that Brennan looks forward to fostering in her daughter. “I try to make the most of what little I have for her. Being able to use this program helped me make her life better,” Brennan explained. “She gets exposed to so much more than being without it,” she said.
Brennan gushes about the Museum of Fine Art and the eclectic set-up of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and hopes to attend one day with her daughter in tow. It’s important for everyone to see and experience art, Brennan said. “It's been wonderful because I get to bring her to places that I grew up going to and always loved,” Brennan said.