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The Beauty of the Free Market

My wife and I recently took a trip to the Meijer Gardens near Grand Rapids, Michigan – it was part of her idea for a nice anniversary weekend getaway.  Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I figured it would be largely similar to other botanical gardens we’ve visited in the past – moderately interesting unless you are a true botanophile.  I’m happy to report that the Meijer Gardens are much more than just a collection of plants – it is a beautiful mixture of architecture, sculptures, and masterful landscaping that exist synergistically to make this a very enjoyable place to visit.

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The Meijer conservatory. Photo courtesy of Meijer Gardens.

As we explored the grounds, I couldn’t help but think how perfectly this place represents the difference between the public and private sectors.  The Meijer gardens, like The Henry Ford (my favorite museum), operates without any government funding.  Their revenue is provided entirely by privately funded grants, foundations, and individual and corporate gifts.  Because they don’t accept money that was taken through coercion, they must ensure that the product they are offering is compelling enough that people would be willing to freely part with their money for the experience.  To that end, they have found a way to integrate artwork into the landscape in a way that enhances each.

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Beautiful landscaping enhances the artwork throughout the park. Photo courtesy of Meijer Gardens.

Further highlighting the difference between public and private, in the fall, when the flowers are no longer out, the gardens are transformed by the addition of glass sculptures.  Instead of packing it up and calling it a year, they’ve found a compelling and creative way to extend the visitor season.  In addition, the gallery adjacent to the conservatory features works by different artists on a periodic basis while the outdoor amphitheater offers evening musical entertainment generating an additional revenue stream.

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Moving sculpture changes with the wind.

A testament to the success of this model is the fact that as other museums have come begging, hat-in-hand, to the taxpayers for help, the Meijer Gardens is in the process of a major expansion.  Construction is currently under way for a massive Japanese garden area scheduled to open in 2015.

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