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Visit a museum for free Sept. 24

John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

The Ringling Circus Museum's Tibbals Learning Center is home to the world's largest miniature circus.

On Sept. 24, visitors can see Marc Chagall’s “America Windows,” the world’s largest miniature circus and thousands of other museum treasures — for free — during Smithsonian Magazine’s 7th annual Museum Day.

Nearly 1,400 museums, planetariums, zoos and other attractions around the country will offer free admission (for two) to anyone who presents a downloaded free Museum Day ticket.   

“The goal is to gain attention for museums and emulate the Smithsonian Institution, which offers free admission at its Washington, D.C. museums year round,” said Jennifer Hicks, group publisher of Smithsonian Magazine. 

Last year, more than 500,000 people participated in Museum Day and, based on the number of tickets that have already been downloaded, organizers expect attendance to exceed that number this year. They also hope people will take advantage of the free day to visit a museum they would not normally pay to see.

“In Chicago, for example, there’s the Art Institute (home of Chagall’s Windows; adult admission: $18) and the Alder Planetarium (adult admission: $12-$28), which are two very different kinds of experiences,” said Hicks, who is planning to use her Museum Day passes to visit New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum Complex (adult admission: $24). “My husband is interested in aviation, and that museum has one of the more expensive admissions, so that’s where we’re going.”

At the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla., the regular admission price is $25, but executive director Steven High said the organization chose to participate in Museum Day to “follow the example the museum founders set of giving back to the community.” He added that on Museum Day, visitors will get “a preview of a new $7.5 million addition to the Ringling Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center, which is home of the world’s largest miniature circus.”

According to Smithsonian Magazine, 60 percent of the people who attended Museum Day in 2010 had never visited the museum they had chosen before.

“People in general love deals,” said Hicks. “And once they enjoy the experience, we’ve found that they’re probably more than happy to go back and pay.”

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