Three New York library system will now offer patrons free access to 33 area museums (graphic by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

New York City residents, surrounded by landmark institutions of art and culture, are often left forgotten by the city’s most celebrated institutions in the place they call home — relegated to the sidelines by museums with skyrocketing admission fees. Recent efforts to widen the restrictive boundaries between economic status and cultural access have made great strides with the help of New York City’s public library system and the launch of Culture Pass NYC, a new initiative to grant library card holders free access to 33 participating museums across NYC. The program launched today in conjunction with the Brooklyn Public Library, Queens Library, and New York Public Library.

Culture Pass NYC allows people over 13 years of age who live, work, study, or own real estate in New York to participate by procuring a NYPL card, which requires a form of identification that has to includes the users full name and address (such as pay stubs or utility bills, while students between the ages of 13 and 16 only need to provide a school photo ID, report card, or working papers.

Each cardholder is eligible for one pass per cultural institution annually and allowed to reserve two impending visits at any given time. Reservations can be made through using an existing library card number and PIN. Certain museums require advance booking, while others may be available immediately. Hyperallergic attempted to book a reservation today but was unable to make a reservation due to greater than expected traffic on the site.

For ticketed entry, mobile and printed options are available. Queens Library branches host all-access printing free of charge, while Culture Pass NYC advertises that library staff at NYPL and Brooklyn branches will release free printing for culture passes upon request.

The program differentiates itself from programs like IDNYC, which offers free yearlong memberships (which often provide reduced admission and expanded access) to cultural institutions, while Culture Pass allows for free one-time admission for the Pass-holder and up to four guests.

As of 2014, the NYC Metropolitan Area is estimated to have the highest population of undocumented immigrants in any metropolitan region across the United States. Amidst qualms surrounding IDNYC and its potential to be utilized for anti-immigration data-mongering, the Culture Pass provides an alternative means of museum access without these same fears of governmental surveillance, a flexibility that IDNYC does not currently grant. Culture Pass offers informational materials on the program in Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, and Arabic through their website. IDNYC is available to homeless NYC residents, which is not possible under existing NYPL card restrictions.

The program is expected to offer 58,000 passes annually, valued at an estimated $2 million. The Culture Pass Program is privately funded by The New York Community Trust, Charles H. Revson Foundation, and Stavros Niarchos Foundation along with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. The program is funded through the next three years, with hopes of expanding into a permanent fixture of NYC culture, giving underserved New Yorkers access to the resources that surround them that may feel out of reach or intimidating for many residents due to economic or immigration status, ethnicity, and language barriers.

The following institutions are currently participating in Culture Pass NYC.


  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • Brooklyn Children’s Museum
  • Brooklyn Historical Society
  • Brooklyn Museum
  • New York Transit Museum


  • Children’s Museum of the Arts
  • Children’s Museum of Manhattan
  • Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
  • The Drawing Center
  • The Frick Collection
  • International Center of Photography
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
  • The Jewish Museum
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Morgan Library & Museum
  • Museum of the City of New York
  • Museum of Chinese in America
  • Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • Rubin Museum of Art
  • Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
  • Society of Illustrators
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  • Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling
  • Whitney Museum of American Art


  • Louis Armstrong House
  • Noguchi Museum
  • Queens Historical Society
  • Queens Museum
  • SculptureCenter

Staten Island

  • Historic Richmond Town
  • Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art


  • Wave Hill

Jasmine Weber is an artist, writer, and former news editor at Hyperallergic. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.