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Visit a museum for free

Sep. 28, 2012 at 3:57 PM ET

Tiger mini golf art
Courtesy Boca Raton Museum of Art
The Boca Raton Museum of Art in Florida currently is offering a playable miniature golf course designed by artists. "Tiger Woods," by Scott Mazariegos and John Larsen (Portland, Oregon) from "Big Art: Miniature Golf."

If you've always been curious about what’s inside a local museum or are on the road and wary of wasting precious travel dollars on an unknown cultural attraction, then take advantage of the free museum tickets available during Museum Day Live! on Saturday, Sept. 29.

Organized by Smithsonian Media, the publishers of Smithsonian Magazine, the event is designed to emulate the free admission policy of the Smithsonian Institution’s Washington, D.C.-based facilities and “give every American the opportunity to enjoy the rich diversity of our nation’s museums and cultural institutions,” Jennifer Hicks, group publisher for Smithsonian Media, said in a statement.

Last year, more than 350,000 people and more than 1,400 museums participated in the free event. This year more than 1,500 art, science and history museums from all 50 states are taking part, and Smithsonian Media expects a significant increase in the number of people taking advantage of the savings.

The Museum of Flight, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Seattle that recently put the NASA space shuttle trainer on display, will be one of the larger museums honoring the Museum Day Live! pass.

“It’s an inexpensive opportunity for people to indulge in some of the historical and cultural riches in their own community or take a day-trip to discover them somewhere else,” museum spokesman Ted Huetter told NBC News. “And visitors on Sept. 29 will be among the first to see our new exhibit honoring astronaut Deke Slayton, one of the first seven NASA astronauts.”

“It’s all about sampling,” said Kelli Bodle, assistant curator at the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Florida, where current exhibits explore video game art and offer a playable miniature golf course designed by artists. “From grocery stores to music and cosmetics, so many things these days are ‘try before you buy.’ This lets the community come in to sample what the museum has,” said Bodle.

Many smaller museums have joined the roster in hopes of a bit of exposure. The National Barber Museum and Hall of Fame in Canal Winchester, Ohio, which exhibits everything from barber poles and chairs to shaving mugs, razors and bloodletting tools, will be honoring Museum Day passes on Saturday for the first time. “We’ve had just 800 visitors so far this year, so we’re hoping to get our name out there,” said museum director Mike Ippoliti, who is organizing a special “BarberQ” for the occasion.

And while there’s a fossil-filled earth science museum and a nature trail that meanders by “Caveman’s Bench” and other stone logs at the Mississippi Petrified Forest in Flora, Miss., chief “rockologist” Lynn Evans said the off-the-beaten-path museum “has no bumper cars, no water slides or goofy golf.” Still, she hopes people who may have heard of the museum but never visited will download a free pass and come by.

“We’re a naturally beautiful place with stone logs that are 36 million years old and the only petrified forest east of the Mississippi River,” said Evans. “Once people see what we have here, they usually come back. And they bring other people.”

Museum Day Live! tickets provide free admission to one person and one guest at one museum and are available at www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday/.

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