With Seattle's arts organizations likely to be in for a long challenge from the economy, particularly the shrinking of corporate support, here's an idea from London worth considering. Mayor Boris Johnson proposes passing around pre-loaded Oyster Cards (now used for subway passes) to school children and the elderly, which they can use for free or cheap admission to museums and theaters. Presumably the arts venues are reimbursed in part, and they also gain converts and serve wider audiences.
The idea gets around one of the objections to free days, such as the Free-for-All at New York's Town Hall: most of the people who take advantage are middle class culture consumers just looking to save money. Distributing Oyster Cards enables you to target the underserved and the truly needy. One problem, though: most London museums are already free.
London has another good idea, and that is to give residents of some boroughs, such as Westminster, taxpayer cards that can be used for modest discounts at arts venues in their borough. After all, it's their taxes that help to support the arts. This way, as ticket prices rise to serve the tourist market, the local residents get a break that visitors can't enjoy. In Seattle, we might consider special cultural districts (for example, Capitol Hill), where residents get discount cards.
Mayor Johson's new cultural plan, "Cultural Metropolis," has some other importable ideas. Among them: A musical instruments amnesty, asking Londoners to donate old instruments to young learners; more access to the arts in outer boroughs, "where it can be very patchy."