Wednesday, 23 November 2016

smARTpass: Checking out arts and cultural programming


Minnesota-based MELSA (Metropolitan Library Service Agency) launched a new program in September that provides equitable access for their users to a wide variety of local arts and cultural programs and events. SmARTpass is an online portal of arts and culture offers, posted by arts organizations ranging from history museums to theatres to dance companies, that library users can reserve for free or at a discount with their library card number.

Sally Lederer, MELSA Communications Manager and lead on the smARTpass project, says that the project is an outgrowth of MELSA’s popular museum pass program (inspired by Chicago Public Library’s pass program), which ran from 2006-2012. What differentiates smARTpass from the museum pass program is the “ability for users to make reservations at any time, including from a mobile device,” rather than needing to show up at the library in person to pick up a museum pass that was only available on a first-come, first-serve basis.


From the smARTpass webpage.


View a video introducing smARTpass on the MELSA website.

The offers, which are pooled from over twenty arts partners, change all the time as partners determine which shows or programs to post to smARTpass. Users can select only one pair of free reservations per partner, per year. Some partners also make discounted reservations available, which is an attractive option for many library users since there is no limit on how many discounted reservations one can make. One of the partners has also included reservations for spots in dance classes, as well as spots in the audience at dance performances. Sally sees interactive or learning opportunities as a potential area for growth with the smARTpass program.


Photo of Tu Dance Class, one of the interactive experiences available through smARTpass.

The Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) enjoy a wealth of arts organizations, which certainly helps in coordinating a program like smARTpass, which relies on the generosity of arts partners.  Once a critical mass of partners was reached, and offers started going up, it became easier to recruit new partners (Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota is a recent addition). From a technical standpoint, creating an online platform that users from 8 different library systems could access with their library barcodes proved to be one of the biggest challenges. Customer service has also been a big focus as library users navigate the new system and figure out how to make the most of these opportunities.  Those who’ve used smARTpass have left very positive feedback:

This is an incredible discovery I just made at the library! I don’t know how you can offer so many great events! But I’m not complaining! 10/10/2016 12:40 PM

This is an amazing program, I remember the museum pass from years ago and the access it allows people to have is outstanding. Would love to see even more theatre for children opportunities. 10/6/2016 8:11 AM

Appreciate the free passes to things I can’t afford.

Great opportunities to see something I wouldn’t normally see. 9/29/2016 12:32 PM

It’s a fantastic service — benefits pass users as well as the organizations offering admission. Win-Win. 9/18/2016 1:53 PM

Orchestra Hall, home of the Minnesota Orchestra, a smARTpass partner. Photo by Betsy Wall Photography.

Orchestra Hall, home of the Minnesota Orchestra, a smARTpass partner. Photo by Betsy Wall Photography.

We look forward to staying in touch and hearing about updates from smARTpass at MELSA! Do you have questions about the program? Contact Sally Lederer at with your questions.  

from Library as Incubator Project

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