The Magic of Membership

Memberships not only make financial sense, they connect you to others and to your community.

by Jenn Gordon, ArtsPartners of Central Illinois
Above: Peoria Riverfront Museum CEO John Morris with Dr. Sharon Kherat, Zan Ransburg, Matt Mamer, Sally Snyder and students were invited for the official dedication of the T.rex exhibition.
Above: Peoria Riverfront Museum CEO John Morris with Dr. Sharon Kherat, Zan Ransburg, Matt Mamer, Sally Snyder and students were invited for the official dedication of the T.rex exhibition.

Supporting a local arts organization as a member or subscriber does more than help the arts in central Illinois survive and thrive. It’s a great return on your investment and opens the door to new experiences, friendships and communities. 

During last year’s shutdown, we hibernated. We trained ourselves to stay home. And we fell in love with streaming services. How many new subscriptions did you add to your monthly expenses in 2020? I know my family added at least one. We were all coping and trying to connect with the outside world from inside our homes. Thankfully, we are no longer living in that reality. However, according to a recent JD Power report, Americans are spending more time and money on streaming services now than we did at the height of the pandemic. Yikes!

With venues reopening and in-person events recommencing, it’s time to give our eyes a rest from those screens, stretch our social skills, and retrain ourselves to safely reengage with live local arts happenings. The good news is that for now, our arts community remains largely intact. But more than ever, these groups need committed patrons, subscribers and members to keep them going. If you would describe yourself as a casual arts goer before the pandemic, now is the time to take that relationship to the next level and here’s why: 

It is a Great Value
Bottom line, becoming a member or season-ticket subscriber makes financial sense. Here are just a few examples of perks that come with some local memberships/subscriptions: 

  • First-time season ticket subscribers to the Peoria Symphony Orchestra (PSO) receive 40 percent off the purchase price. 
  • A basic $50 membership with the Peoria Art Guild includes two tickets to the Fine Art Fair and discounts throughout the year on art classes and special events. 
  • A basic family membership of $110 at the Peoria Riverfront Museum includes free admission to galleries, exhibitions and the Dome Planetarium, plus discounts for the Giant Screen Theatre, Museum Store and various museum classes.
  • A family membership of $95 to the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum gets you unlimited visits; special member pricing on birthday parties, programs and classes, and selected events; and free admission to other reciprocating museums worldwide.
  • The Contemporary Art Center offers memberships starting at $40 which include discounts on gallery rentals, events and classes, and in-gallery art purchases.
  • A membership at Wheels O’ Time Museum includes unlimited visits and discounts to the gift shop and special events. 

Arts organizations typically offer a variety of entry points for members, making it easy and affordable to join whether you are a student, adult or family. Some organizations even offer “mini-season” subscriptions like Peoria Players Theatre, or the “choose your own subscription” model like the PSO, allowing patrons to purchase select performances while enjoying some benefits of membership. 

“Most people begin their membership with the museum to save money—and that's okay!” says John Morris, president and CEO of the Peoria Riverfront Museum. “Our family memberships receive tremendous benefits and more than pay for themselves through a few visits to the museum. I think people are astonished by how much they receive through membership.”

It Grows Commitment to the Cause
Beyond the transactional value, members grow increasingly committed to the cause and mission of the organization. They start to value not just their arts experience, but the impact those experiences have on the community as a whole. Thanks to subscribers, the PSO was one of just a few symphonies in the country which maintained programming during the pandemic. 

“We had about half of our subscriber base continue on, even though there was not any opportunity to attend a concert in person,” says Susan Hoffman, executive director. “Because of them we were able to offer all seven concerts and a full season. They allowed us to continue to provide employment for musicians. People who stayed with us should feel very proud of what they helped to sustain.”

Nicki Haschke, Peoria Players Theatre’s box office manager, agrees. “Our season ticket subscribers are incredibly loyal—some have been with us for 30 years! And when the pandemic hit, they were the ones who stepped up and helped us raise $75,000 to keep us going. They aren’t just patrons, they’ve been a support team for the theatre, helping ensure we come through this.”

It Connects You to People
Perhaps the most magical benefit of membership—especially this side of the pandemic—is that it connects you to other people with shared interests. This is what live local arts are all about: providing collective experiences that inspire, thrill, and most importantly, bring us together. Whether it’s a workshop, a class, a tour or a performance, experiencing art with others provides common ground for enjoying life here in central Illinois. 

“Membership is a great way to get connected to artists and other arts lovers,” notes Shannon Cox, executive director of the Peoria Art Guild. “I’ve seen so many friendships and relationships grow among members at the Guild, especially in our pottery and print studios. You don’t have to be a member to take a class, but it seems that members feel like they are part of the Art Guild family and are more likely to participate in our programming. There is definitely a social component to it.”

Hoffman agrees that the social aspect of membership is very important. “We think of Peoria Symphony subscribers as our close family, and we provide them with extra access to special events where they can actually meet Maestro and the musicians,” she explains. “We provide a total experience that really opens up the door to connect with other patrons who have a shared love of music. Concerts become social events where people look forward to not only enjoying world-class music, but getting to spend time with the broader PSO community.”

The Peoria Symphony Orchestra thinks of its subscribers as family, providing opportunities to connect with other patrons. Photo by Kelli Drake
The Peoria Symphony Orchestra thinks of its subscribers as family, providing opportunities to connect with other patrons. Photo by Kelli Drake

It Grows Heart for your Community
When you are connected to people and a cause, and experience inspirational moments along the way, your heart for your community grows. You no longer see the arts as something that can be experienced; rather, you see it as something you can help make happen! I’ve been blown away by the generosity and commitment of local arts patrons who give endlessly because they know what we have here in central Illinois is special. Our access to world-class arts experiences in the heart of the Midwest makes us unique and is something in which we can take pride.

“Our lifelong members are a part of creating and sustaining a community of inspiration,” reflects Morris. “And after a while, in your heart you are going to say there are certain things this community needs. Our Visionary Society really represents that community. It’s because of these members that we are able to bring world-class exhibits to this museum. These are not anomalies any more. These are the standard. We are going to keep making the museum the pride of Peoria. And that is what membership can do.” PM

Jenn Gordon is executive director of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois. Get connected to the local arts scene at