Ready, set, exchange

Posted: May 5th, 2017 | Arts & Entertainment, Featured, News | No Comments

A month of museum visits awaits

By Gina McGalliard

If you love museums, May is going to be your lucky month.

The San Diego Museum Council is having their “Big Exchange” — an event that allows patrons the opportunity to visit a wide assortment of institutions, a number of other arts and cultural destinations and even some gardens — and they are expanding its normal exchange period.

Children view insects at the Natural History Museum. (Courtesy San Diego Museum Council)

The Big Exchange started approximately five years ago with a smaller number of museums partaking in the event, said Kerri Fox, president of the Museum Council, but the event has quickly grown in both size and scope in its short existence.

Although museums sometimes offer exchanges with one another in a given month, it’s quite unusual to have a period where patrons are offered such a myriad of opportunities to be exposed to arts and culture, said Fox, who also noted that even some tourists become museum members to take advantage of the program.

“If you’re a member of a museum, this is a perk during [May] where you can try other museums and see what they have to offer,” Fox said.

Many people end up joining other museums as a result of the Big Exchange, she said, and patrons love the program because it gives them the chance to visit a number of other places they would otherwise have to pay out of pocket for.

“Last year we had over 8,000 members use their membership to go visit another museum,” said Theresa Kosen, executive director at the San Diego Museum Council, which is in its third year of coordinating the Big Exchange. “And that was a huge increase over the previous years. So it’s definitely something that’s grown in popularity.”

The program started as a rather informal exchange between specific museums, but as it grew in popularity and scope, it was eventually in need of coordination and the Museum Council stepped in.

“It’s been very successful,” Fox said.

Fox, who also works for the Children’s Museum as the vice president of marketing and communications, said there were several reasons why they chose to expand the program even further this year.

“One is to give more people an opportunity to experience the different museums that we have in San Diego,” she said. “The second is that this is the Museum Council’s 40th year, so we wanted to celebrate that. And International Museum Day is May 18, so we wanted this to be part of that as well.”

Because the month-long exchange period precedes summer, Fox said it will give those who participate the opportunity to see museums they’d like to join next or visit over summer vacation.

No matter where your interests lie, you can find a museum in San Diego to match it; including the Barona Cultural Center & Museum and the San Diego Museum of Man for the anthropologist in you; the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and the Natural History Museum for science nerds; the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum for aviation buffs; ghost hunters can check out the Whaley House Museum; and you can even find specialty museums such as the Railroad Museum and the California Surf Museum. There are also museums for children.

“Per capita, we rank as having one of the highest concentrations of museums in the country,” Kosen said. “And I think it’s a combination of definitely Balboa Park being such a gem, to have [so many] in that one geographic area; but then I also think it has so much to do with San Diego being one of the earliest settlements in California, so there’s a lot of history-related museums in San Diego, and that there’s such a great variety of what we loosely term a museum.”

For more information in the Big (Museum) Exchange, visit

Gina McGalliard is a local freelance writer. Contact her at or follow her blog,

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