Want to See Cuba? Your Museum Might Take You
SOME large American museums, and an increasing number of smaller ones, offer domestic and international trips — with Cuba currently all the rage — that enliven the museums’ images and at the same time help increase membership and raise money.
Some are major institutions, like the Metropolitan Museum in New York City and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, which offer tours to Cuba and other destinations where travel can be difficult to arrange individually.
But even the much smaller Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wis., is about to roll out a Cuba trip. Ruth Schuette, a property manager who is a member of the museum, said she was eager to join it because “I didn’t want to take a chance of going there through Canada or someplace else.”
Also, she said, “I did not want to have to do all the homework myself, and I know from my previous museum trips that I will be part of a like-minded group interested in similar experiences, and we will keep in touch afterwards about the trip.”
Museum trips cost $4,000 to $10,000, with the trips to Cuba falling at the lower end of the scale. Smithsonian Journeys, a giant in the museum travel field, operates about 180 trips annually, and some of the proceeds go to the institution’s research and exhibitions. The institution was a museum travel pioneer, beginning its trips in 1970. Like many museums, it offered — and still does when asked — exclusive trips for donors and board members, but the Smithsonian also helped democratize museum trips by offering them broadly to the public.
At first, the Smithsonian had four trips a year, with up to 180 people on a chartered Boeing 707, accompanied by academic experts. The idea was so new that Amy Kotkin, longtime director of Smithsonian Journeys, recalled, “Once Pan Am agents, in uniform, came to the Smithsonian Castle and checked everyone in.”
By the 1980s, the Smithsonian began to offer more varied trips for smaller groups, typically around two dozen people. The program, like most travel, suffered during the recession, but is now steadily adding destinations, with Cuba trips brimming with interested travelers. Trips to Cuba require a license from the Treasury Department and are reserved for groups that can provide education and culture-rich programs.
“We’re not on the cutting edge of adventures like climbing a mountain,” Ms. Kotkin said. “We focus on lifelong learning, and offer soft adventure in places like Peru, Bhutan, India, China and lots of other destinations, and now Cuba.”
Emily Van Agtmael, an interior designer in Maryland, who returned from a Corcoran tour of Cuba last week, said the docent whom the museum chose to explain the country’s national museum, “made all the difference; with her, we could really appreciate what was in the collection.”
All museum trips are called “friend raisers,” said Merle Lomrantz, director of the Newark Museum’s active member travel program, where more than 1,200 of the museum’s 5,000 member households have participated in its domestic or international trips.
“What we have found is that the trips encourage members to become more interested in the museum, to raise their membership level and become patrons,” she said.