MISSOULA – Children and families experiencing poverty can now visit four Missoula museums free of charge.

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Families First Children’s Museum, the Missoula Insectarium, the Montana Natural History Center and the University of Montana spectrUM Discovery Area have joined the nationwide Museums for All Initiative, an effort to ensure that museums are accessible to everyone, regardless of income.

A cooperative initiative between the Association of Children’s Museums and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Museums for All is a network of over 200 museums that have committed to offering free or reduced-price admission for Electronic Benefits Transfer cardholders, who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

Only three other cities in the U.S. – Chicago; Savannah, Georgia; and San Diego – have more museums enrolled in Museums for All than Missoula. The four participating Missoula museums have chosen to provide totally free admission for EBT cardholders. Visitors can show their EBT card at any of these museums for free entry.

Missoula’s participating museums came together with the shared goals of opening access while closing gaps in persistent opportunity and achievement for children. In fiscal year 2016, 14 percent of Missoula County residents relied on SNAP benefits.

“Life presents enough challenges and hurdles,” said Jen Marangelo, executive director of Missoula Insectarium. “Access to unique and impactful education opportunities should not be one of them. We’re honored to be part of a program that helps ensure all segments of our community have access to experiences that nurture curiosity and inspire learning.”

Missoula Insectarium inspires an appreciation and understanding of insects and their relatives through educational programs, innovative science exhibits featuring over 20 live invertebrate species, museum activities centering on a new theme each month and an opportunity to touch and hold live “bug ambassadors.” Located at 218 E. Front St., Suite 200, the Insectarium is open Wednesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 to 5 p.m.

Families First Children’s Museum empowers families with parent education and learning through play. In addition to its museum, FFCM offers a variety of additional family education services, including parenting education classes and individual private consultations that strengthen resiliency and build confidence in navigating day-to-day family life.

Though its museum operation is temporarily closed, FFCM continues to offer its family education programs at this time. The office can be reached Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 406-721-7690.

The Montana Natural History Center promotes appreciation, understanding and stewardship of nature through education. MNHC’s children’s programs include weekly miniNaturalist Pre-K programs, monthly Saturday Kids’ Activities that are free with admission and summer camps for children ages 4 through fifth grade. Need-based scholarships are available for MNHC’s camps.

Its museum, which engages visitors with the flora, fauna and natural history of western Montana, is located at 120 Hickory St., Suite A in Missoula and is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday noon to 4 p.m.

Now in its 10th year, spectrUM is UM’s hands-on science center that serves more than 200,000 Montanans annually through in-museum and statewide mobile programming, as well as at EmPower Place, a free family learning center at Missoula Food Bank.

“Access matters,” said spectrUM Director Holly Truitt. “Teaming up with Museums for All is a powerful addition to the work we’re already doing in Missoula to ensure that all children can access inspirational role models and hands-on learning experiences.”

SpectrUM also operates a Science for All Fund that provides need-based scholarships for clubs, camps and field trips and an array of free programming in Missoula and rural and tribal Montana communities. SpectrUM’s Toole Crossing museum is located at 812 Toole Ave. and is open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“All four organizations are immensely proud to be part of this nationwide initiative that is moving the needle by providing unprecedented access to museums and exhibits,” said Thurston Elfstrom, executive director of Montana Natural History Center.

“Since 2014, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Association of Children’s Museums have seen over 230 museums adopt the Museums for All program, welcoming over 900,000 visitors through their doors,” said Laura Huerta Migus, executive director of the Association of Children’s Museums. “We believe that museums have the duty to serve their entire communities, and Museums for All is a great way to extend that invitation to everyone.”

To learn more about the nationwide Museums for All initiative, visit http://childrensmuseums.org/about/acm-initiatives/museums-for-all.

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