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Museums from coast to coast opening to military families

May 24, 2010 |  3:39 pm

Seven-year-old Aaron Headrick, whose father is in the Navy, was looking Monday at an ancient piece of Greek pottery while the curator explained the story depicted on it: Odysseus escaping from the cave of Polyphemus by getting the Cyclops drunk and blinding him.

"That's weird," the boy said.

"Yes, it is," said John Marciari, curator of European art at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.

Weird perhaps, but also part of a pretty nifty action-adventure tale that is part of an exhibit on heroes and heroism through the ages, with first-rate pieces of art on loan from other major museums.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Museum of Art and 600 other museums across the United States are offering free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families under a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and Blue Star Families, a military support group.

Blue Star Chairwoman Kathy Roth-Douquet, whose husband is on his third combat tour, said the museums' project will help reduce the sense of estrangement that military families feel from the civilian community that does not share in the war zone burden of military service.

"This will help bridge that feeling of disconnect" between the civilian and military communities,   Roth-Douquet said."This says, 'Hey, we appreciate you.' "

San Diego County, with 150,000 active-duty military personnel and 14 major museums, seemed like the natural place to announce the program, said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman.

''I think it's good karma for the museums: They're building museum visitors for the future," he said before a news conference.

Included in the 600-plus museums are venues including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center in Dubois, Wy., the Lumberjack Steam Train Museum in Loana, Wis., and the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago.

Roth-Douquet said she and her children -- Sophie, 12, and Charley, 8 -- are planning a road trip while waiting for her husband, Marine Col. Greg Douquet, to return from Afghanistan. Museums, she said, help broaden the experience of military children beyond the world of military bases.

"When I bring my kids here," she said while touring the Museum of Photographic Arts, "the world is bigger."

For a full list of the participating museums, see www.arts.gov/bluestarmuseums.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Military families at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Credit: Sandy Huffaker