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DALLAS -- If something's free, does it still have value?

The Dallas Museum of Art is betting the answer is yes.

That's why, on Monday, museum officials said the DMA became the first art museum in the country to offer free general admission and free memberships. Crowds Monday were steady and strong.

With the new program, dubbed "DMA Friends & Partners," members will get a card to track their participation. They'll then earn credits to convert to rewards including access to special programs.

Julie Patton brought her four kids to the Dallas Museum of Art on the first free day.

"I love this museum," Patton said.

The family came to downtown Dallas from Richardson to go to the Perot Museum, but had to wait a few hours to get in. Coming to the DMA helped them fill the time in style.

"It extended the whole day, Patton said.

By offering free general admission and free membership, the museum hopes to become a less intimidating place, where you can pop by whenever you want. For example, after a visit to the popular Klyde Warren Deck Park, which is right out front.

The museum, which had a free general admissions policy up until 2001, will still charge for special exhibitions and some events.

"Primarily, [the free admission is for] the people that live here," said DMA director Maxwell Anderson. "We want them to feel at home."

Anderson believes free access to art will help the museum grow attendance above 500,000 a year, where it is now. He also said it will scarcely effect revenue, with only about four percent of revenue coming from admission at most museums.

But how will they make it up?

"We want support from people, in terms of high-net-worth people, foundations, corporations and government, and less nickel-and-diming people who come through the door, he said.

Anderson says the art world is watching this closely to see if his plan makes the DMA a more popular place, leading to even larger donations.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report

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