May 31, 2010
by Molly Blake
Stephanie Himel-Nelson recalls doing two things during most of her childhood summer breaks: moving and visiting museums. The self-described military brat laughs when she says her parents had to drag her into many of the galleries and exhibits. Looking back, however, she admits the trips were very powerful.
"The first time I saw the portrait of Genevre de' Benci by Leonardo daVinci, I think I stopped breathing for a moment," said Himel-Nelson.
Beginning Memorial Day weekend, more than 600 museums across the country are opening their doors for free to military families as part of Blue Star Museums - a joint venture between Blue Star Families, a non-profit organization dedicated to military families and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The list of participating museums spans the country and includes some of the world’s premiere galleries like The Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco’s Walt Disney Family Museum, Colorado Springs Fine Art Center and the famed Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Kathy Roth-Douquet, the chairman of Blue Star Families worked in tandem with Rocco Landesman, chairman of the NEA to create this landmark program that runs from Memorial Day, May 31, 2010, through Labor Day, September 6, 2010. More than 30 children’s museums have also signed on including the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Los Angeles’ Zimmer Children’s Museum, and Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City as well as historic landmarks, history and science centers.
"Museums make our world larger and this summer my children will get to experience so many moments like the ones I had as a child," said Himel-Nelson.
Kimberly Coerr is a Marine Corps spouse and mother of three boys. Like many service members, the Coerr’s are isolated from their immediate family and use their summer vacation to see parents and grandparents. Free entrance to museums will make summer travels less painful financially and give family members a chance to spend quality time together. Perhaps more importantly for Coerr is the underlying significance of a program that supports military families who often feel under-appreciated or misunderstood by the civilian population.
"We are in a war right now that impacts such a disproportionately small number of Americans," said Coerr. "As a military family member, you can feel pretty lonely and not sure if the rest of the country appreciates the sacrifices the military families make."
Himel-Nelson says the message is clear to her as well.
"When this many civilians come together to say thanks in such a big way, I think it's wonderful and it's really unprecedented."
Blue Star Families was formed in 2008 but a group of military spouses - their goal is to support, empower and connect military families and help them achieve their best possible life. The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 and is dedicated to bringing arts to all Americans and providing leadership in arts education.
For more information on Blue Star Museums, including an interactive map with links to all the participating museums, visit www.bluestarfam.org or www.arts.gov.
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