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Art Museum Attracts Young Professionals With Beer and Bands

August 25, 1995

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ The party was just starting to roll at the Columbus Museum of Art when disaster struck _ someone parked his Porsche in front of the beer truck.

Museum staff quickly dispatched the errant Porsche.

``We’ve got to be able to get to the beer,″ said museum media director Jennifer Keefer, laughing.

Keefer organizes First Thursdays, a monthly gathering that has turned the museum into one of the city’s hottest spots for singles.

Around the country, tired-of-the-bar-scene singles are making these highbrow museum parties popular. Museums eager to introduce young professionals to Monet and Miro are luring them with beer and bands.

And a hint of romance.

A survey taken at the Columbus museum’s parties found that only 13 percent come for the art.

``Hey, the only reason, well, the main reason we’re here is for the women,″ said 23-year-old Todd Tackage of Pittsburgh, who is working a summer job in Columbus.

Kerri Gunderman, 25, of suburban Westerville, said she enjoyed strolling through the galleries, soaking in the artistic atmosphere. Then she came clean: ``OK, I’m here to meet some single, professional men. I’ll be honest about it.″

Indeed, not many of the partygoers make it to the galleries, said security guard Tom McLoughlin. One reason is that no drinks are allowed near the art.

``They can’t carry the booze through the galleries, so that limits where they’ll go,″ McLoughlin said.

The Cincinnati Art Museum has held ``Thank Van Gogh It’s Friday″ parties for the last three years. ``It’s created a talk about the museum that we haven’t been able to do in any other way,″ said spokeswoman Diane Smith.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art has been throwing parties for 10 years.

``It wasn’t the intent to just make it a singles evening,″ said spokeswoman Mona Slaton. ``But that is generally what they are.″

The monthly Friday night party has also generated some revenue. In the last five years, some 2,500 people have bought museum memberships through the gatherings.

The Columbus parties have attracted about 120 new members, and about 100 others have joined the Museum’s Associates, doubling the number of young professionals in the group of benefactors.

Most of the museums charge admission and lead tours during the parties. In Columbus, all the museum’s galleries are open at no charge.

When First Thursdays began in January, about 900 people showed up.

``We couldn’t believe it,″ Keefer said. ``We expected 200.″

The last gathering, on Aug. 3, drew 2,700.

``Now we can’t get ’em out of here,″ McLoughlin said.

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