Mesa will allow free admission at two museums on select Sundays despite objections that offering the promotion on that day will exclude many people who have religious obligations.
Starting July, the museums will let people in free the second Sunday each month at the Mesa Southwest Museum and the Arizona Museum for Youth, both downtown.
The City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to try the promotion for six months. The offer is open to everyone, not just Mesa residents.
Officials are hoping to attract people who have never visited the museums. Sundays, historically the slowest days at both museums, are popular with many new visitors, city officials said.
However, two council members said Sundays in Mesa are not good days to offer free museum admission. Councilwoman Claudia Walters, who is Mormon, said numerous Mesa families won't be able to participate because they reserve Sunday for religious activities.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are particularly diligent about that practice, which also is encouraged in many other faiths.
Councilman Kyle Jones, also Mormon, agreed a Sunday promotion would shut out many families. "My family won't be going," he said.
The city does not have data on how many Mormon families live in Mesa, which was founded by Mormon pioneers more than a century ago. However, members of the faith have a significant presence in the city and other parts of the East Valley. Mesa also is home to the Arizona Mormon Temple.
The concern about Sunday conflicts with religious obligations came up when the city's Museum and Cultural Advisory Board talked about the idea, said Barbara Meyerson, administrator at the Arizona Museum for Youth. No one had firsthand experience to know, she said.
"No one is trying to exclude anyone," Meyerson said.
Pattie Farmer Smith, who teaches American religious traditions at Arizona State University, said Sundays for Mormons are specifically dedicated to religious pursuits. Each month, one Sunday is reserved for fasting, she said. The money that would have been spent on food is supposed to go to charity, she said. Smith said many Mormons, given those obligations, "may feel left out'' of an activity they might otherwise find attractive.
Jones and Walters weren't the only ones to object to Sunday. Vice Mayor Dennis Kavanaugh, who isn't Mormon, said he had hoped it would be on Thursday evening.
Mayor Keno Hawker on Thursday asked if anyone had thought about keeping the free day for residents only.
Tom Wilson, administrator of the Mesa Southwest Museum, said the hope is that the free admission will attract people from other Valley cities who might not visit otherwise.
Museum officials ruled out Saturdays because turnout is strong at both museums and having free admission would cut into revenue. They also decided against weekday evenings because the youth museum is geared toward very young children who typically would be in bed.
Admission to the Arizona Museum for Youth is $3.50 per person, and children under 1 are free. The Mesa Southwest Museum charges $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, $3 for children 3-12. There is no charge for children under 3.
The city plans to hire Behavioral Research of Phoenix for $3,000 to $6,000 to evaluate how many people come for the free day, said Jerry Dillehay, Mesa's interim cultural director.
The museums are talking to several companies who would like to pay to have their names associated with the free day, Dillehay said. He refused to name the companies. The proceeds would cover the cost of the evaluation, he said.
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