New York City Asks Cultural Groups to Help Enhance Municipal IDs

Robin Pogrebin, New York Times, July 23, 2014

The much-heralded municipal identification card announced this month by the de Blasio administration will make it easier for undocumented immigrants in New York City to check out library books and sign a lease.

It might also come with free membership to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To broaden the appeal of a card that will be available to all New Yorkers early next year but is designed to help those who do not have a driver’s license or other official identification, the administration has asked some of the city’s most prominent cultural institutions to offer benefits, like memberships or discounted tickets, to cardholders.

The proposal, floated last week to a group of city arts executives at the Met Museum by Tom Finkelpearl, the cultural affairs commissioner, is designed to ensure that a card intended to help undocumented New Yorkers does not simply become an easy way to identify them.

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{snip} All the executives belong to the Cultural Institutions Group, which includes the Met Museum, Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Museum and 30 other organizations that operate in city-owned buildings or on city-owned land.

How, for example, would the program affect the income derived from daily admissions, ticket sales or yearly membership fees? While a card giving every New Yorker access to certain museums and stages would likely broaden audiences, it also might tempt paying members to opt for the free alternative. The Met Museum, for example, takes in more than $26 million a year in membership fees from its 155,000 members, a third of whom are city residents.

Still, all those asked say they are seriously considering the proposal and plan to spend the next few weeks working out the details. {snip}

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New York will not be the first city to try loading perks into identity cards as a way to broaden their appeal and offset any potential stigma.

San Francisco, which introduced identity cards in 2008, offered, as an inducement, discounts at the city’s golf courses, museums and participating restaurants. Even so, only a small fraction of the city’s 825,000 residents have signed up for the card, though Bill Barnes, a spokesman for the city administrator, said officials have been pleased with the response.

In New Haven, ID cards–first issued in 2007–are soon to be reloadable for downtown parking and shopping.

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