Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Family accomondation at the Legion of Honor

Last August, we sent the following letter to the Legion of Honor:

August 25, 2013

To whom it may concern:

I have loved the Legion of Honor since I first saw it as a teenager in the Hitchcock movie Vertigo. When I moved to San Francisco after college, my dad bought me a membership. I spent many wonderful afternoons riding my bike to the museum, taking in a few rooms and maybe a coffee, and then biking home again.

My 2-year-old daughter and I love visiting museums. We recently spent a magical afternoon discussing the Diebenkorn paintings at the de Young (and I renewed my membership). We also frequently visited the SFMOMA. I was so looking forward to sharing with her the Impressionists now on display at the Legion. But, alas, the Legion seems determined to prevent families with young children from being able to comfortably see this art. They do not allow personal strollers.

At first, I was told (after we got our tickets) that the reason for strollers not being permitted was because of the crowds. I was relieved to see the rooms were only about half full when we got downstairs. Unfortunately, the supervisor I spoke with said they have “a lot of reasons” for banning strollers – though she did not name any of the other reasons. The Legion did provide a small, rickety umbrella stroller with a 40-lb. weight limit that would only be comfortable to push if I was shorter than 5 feet tall. My daughter thought it was a toy and wanted to push it around the exhibit bumping into other viewers. Because I was unable to contain her without our own stroller, she also attempted to push an “emergency door”, and the guard yelled at us.

Sadly, we left the exhibit without being able to view or discuss the art, and many of the other rooms at the Legion were closed. We strolled through a few, and she particularly enjoyed The Bath by Jean-Léon Gérôme.

San Francisco is a hard place to raise a family with the high costs of housing and childcare and the inconsistent schools with their lottery-assignment system. We struggle to stay because we love the cultural resources here, and I want them to be part of my daughter’s childhood. I cannot imagine the motivation of the Legion’s management to make life more difficult for families to see the exhibits – especially when the rooms are not even crowded. Shouldn’t educating our youth be everyone’s priority? Why obstruct art education? I would like to believe that we all want San Francisco to have a diverse representation of age among other things.

In short, I request the ban on strollers be cancelled, a strong reprimand for the management who created these dismal policies and for the supervisors who will not override them when they should.

I look forward to these problem being fixed quickly – as the Legion is otherwise a wonderful place.
Much to our surprise, it was picked up by the Chronicle (after we sent it to them... and they edited it).

Since then, we've exchanged some voicemails with the Director of Member and Visitor Services. I emailed her back today as follows:

Hi, Karin-
Thanks for your call back regarding your family policies. I did not realize until yesterday that an edited version of the letter I sent you on 8/25 was picked up by the chronicle about a month later.

Let me know if I have this right regarding the changes you are making:
* improved communication and website so people know the policy -- great idea!
* strollers allowed whenever possible -- what are the constraints here? no one has yet explained the reason for the restrictions to me.
* new loaner strollers sturdier and better quality -- I just want to clarify which museum you mean -- the problem we had was at the Legion.
* more baby bjorns -- The baby bjorns are a waste of your money. If parents can comfortably carry their children that way, they will already have a carrier with them. Generally, the highly-mobile children who need to be contained to focus on the art are too heavy for a carrier.

Other than noted above, that's a good start.

Thanks for your offer of tickets to Hockney. As I mentioned in my letter, I am already a member of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; it looks like members are free to that special exhibit. I also wanted to clarify that I have never had a problem with our stroller at the de Young. The problem was at the Legion of Honor.

I hope you will continue to work towards improving family access to both the museums. We love Friday nights at the de Young and find it very child-friendly. The Legion is magnificent and should be equally accessible.