Shutdown sojourn: Free museums, music for furloughed U.S. workers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - It may not put a meal on the table for furloughed federal employees, but some U.S. museums and symphonies are supplying food for the mind in free admission for workers affected by the longest partial federal government shutdown in U.S. history.

FILE PHOTO: Tourists walk towards the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, February 12, 2015. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo

With the shutdown in its fourth week with no end in sight, cultural institutions from Massachusetts to Oregon are moving to help unpaid federal workers spend some of their otherwise idle hours with loved ones enjoying art, science history or music.

Museums in at least 27 states, along with at least 19 orchestras, offered free admission to federal workers who have unpaid time on their hands. Institutions range from The Metropolitan Opera in New York to the San Diego Air & Space Museum, home of the Apollo IX Command Module, which helped pave the way for man to walk on the Moon.

Nearly 200 furloughed employees have taken advantage of an offer from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which waived its admission fee for each furloughed worker plus one guest, said museum spokesman Norman Keyes. Fine art highlights at the museum, whose front steps were made famous in the “Rocky” movie series, include Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and an array of Rubens and Renoirs.

“Museums can offer a place both to get away from the fray and to recharge, and to gain perspective,” Keyes said. “It will not solve the shutdown crisis, but it can help build positive experiences during a difficult time.”

Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry has also waived admission fees for each furloughed worker plus two guests for the duration of the shutdown. Star attractions include a German U-Boat submarine seized in 1944, the only one captured during World War II. It is the length of a city block, the museum boasts on its website.

Symphonies from Boston to Akron, Ohio, offered no-cost concert tickets to ease the stress of wondering when your next paycheck will be issued.

“Great music has the power to inspire, reduce stress and ease burdens,” said Joseph Giunta, who conducts the Des Moines Symphony.

“We invite federal employees to join us as our guests for an upcoming Masterworks concert,” said Giunta, noting each worker was offered two tickets which otherwise sell for $20 apiece or more.

Much of the federal workforce lives in or around Washington, D.C., but these people may be out of luck. That is because premiere cultural institutions such as the Smithsonian’s museums, galleries and zoo, which are always free to the public, remain closed to all for the remainder of the shutdown.

Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio