Columbus Metropolitan Library cards give readers access to knowledge, but now they also offer a path to local arts experiences.

At specific branch locations in Columbus, cardholders may check out free “culture passes” to the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Ohio History Center.

The library system partnered with the conservatory and the Wexner Center during the past year, and it added the Ohio History Center within the past month or so, said marketing and communications specialist Ben Zenitsky.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library wants to ensure that it provides equal access for all customers to the region’s many arts and cultural institutions, regardless of their income or resources, Zenitsky said.

“This idea was really born out of that philosophy,” he said. “It goes beyond books.”

The initiative is considered a pilot program, and the library is in conversations with other institutions in the hopes of expanding the types of available passes, Zenitsky said. Arts and culture venues are the focus for now, but sporting-event passes are a possibility, he said.

The culture passes are checked out in a manner similar to other library materials, Zenitsky said. In this case, though, the paper passes don’t have to be returned to the library, he said. It does mean the passes must be checked out in person and cannot be obtained online.

Franklin Park Conservatory passes admit two adults and six children and are valid for two days, Zenitsky said. Passes are available at the Driving Park, Martin Luther King and Shepard branches, he said.

Ohio History Center passes admit up to eight adults or children and also are valid for the Ohio Village living-history museum when it is open, Zenitsky said. The passes are valid for seven days, and users gain a 10% discount at the center’s cafe and gift shop during their visit. The passes are available at the Karl Road, Linden, Northern Lights and Northside branches, he said.

Wexner Center passes admit two adults – students and children are admitted for free – and are valid for two days, Zenitsky said. The passes are available at the main, Martin Luther King, Northside and Whetstone branches, he said.

Those interested in the passes may check for availability by calling the library’s main line at 614-645-2275, Zenitsky said.

The program benefits the participating institutions because they have the opportunity to engage with new customers who might become regular visitors, he said.

The Wexner Center, 1871 N. High St. on the Ohio State University campus, became involved last fall, when Columbus Metropolitan Library marketing director Gregg Dodd and Wexner Center patron-services director Katie Laux were chatting, said Melissa Starker, creative-content and PR manager for the Wexner Center.

General admission to the Wexner Center is $8, according to its website,

“Access is something that we’re really looking at a lot right now,” Starker said.

Although some visitors might be intimidated by contemporary art, the culture passes offer an opportunity for people to check it out, she said.

The Wexner Center is keeping an informal record of the number of guests who visit using culture passes, Starker said. At least a dozen library passes have been redeemed, she said.

Like Starker, Rachel Vaught, member-relations manager at the Franklin Park Conservatory, said the conservatory is a community asset that should be available to all.

The conservatory, 1777 E. Broad St. in Columbus, began its partnership with the library in June 2018, and it initially made culture passes available at the Martin Luther King and Shepard branches before adding Driving Park in September, Vaught said. Each of the locations is within 2 1/2 miles of the conservatory, she said.

General admission to the conservatory is $19, according to its website,

Last year, from June to December, 961 adults and children used culture passes to visit the conservatory, Vaught said. From January to June, 1,130 adults and children used passes, she said.

The passes are good for both indoor and outdoor exhibitions, she said.

Jen Cassidy, division director for the Ohio History Center and Ohio Village, said her organization’s participation in the pilot program began about six weeks ago when library leaders reached out to them.

In those six weeks, about 50 people have visited with culture passes, Cassidy said.

“We’ve just really loved to be accessible to as many people in Columbus as possible,” she said.

General admission to the Ohio History Center is $15, according to its website,

The Ohio History Center selected the branches where its culture passes are available – Karl Road, Linden, Northern Lights and Northside – based on neighborhoods that are close to the venue at 800 E. 17th Ave. in Columbus, Cassidy said. Part of that involved identifying underserved areas where residents are less likely to have the means to afford a visit, she said.

“We want people to realize that museums are for everyone,” she said.