Free museum admission

Museums & exhibits not to miss

[This is a slightly different version of a story we prepared for USA TODAY ]

As communities begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions, many museums around the country are finally able to reopen their doors.

Reserve a ticket, venture in, and you will find that your favorite artifacts have been waiting patiently for your return. And that museum staff have used their ‘time off’ to mount new exhibitions and create new experiences.

Many free museum admission programs are back too.

“While the museum visit may look a little different, whether that be enhanced cleaning procedures or wearing masks,” says Laura Lott, President and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). “Visitors can expect a safe experience in which their curiosity is sparked, and they feel reconnected to their communities.”

Here are some museums where you can start getting reconnected.

Pawns and Passports at the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, MO

Courtesy World Chess Hall of Fame

To inspire travel planning, the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, MO makes a move with “Pawns and Passports.” The exhibition features more than 50 chess sets celebrating the popular culture of different regions. Included is a Russian chess set made from ancient mammoth ivory and an elegant Chinese puzzle ball set, with carved concentric spheres. Exhibition dates: June 3, 2021 – January 30, 2022. Bonus: A virtual tour of the exhibit will be available.

Driven to Win: Racing in America at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Dearborn, MI


Courtesy Wes Duenkel Motorsports Photography

The sprawling Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, MI is now open daily and revved up with a new permanent exhibit about American auto racing.

Driven to Win: Racing in America celebrates stock cars, sports cars, drag racing, land-speed racing, and more, with plenty of interactive displays, historic race cars, and racing simulators.

The 80-acre outdoor Greenfield Village reopened April 17, but only Thursday-Sunday for now, due to the pandemic.

Bonus: The longing running Motor Muster in Greenfield Village returns on Father’s Day Weekend (June 19-20) in Greenfield Village.

Kusama: Cosmic Nature at the New York Botanical Garden. Bronx, NY

Dancing Pumpkin, by Yayoi Kusama © YAYOI Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner

A celebration of the wonderfully imaginative artwork of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who has a lifelong fascination with, and whimsical view of nature, runs through October 31, 2021, across the 250-acres of the New York Botanical Garden. The Kusama takeover includes new, monumental sculptures, expansive floral installations, and soon, a new Infinity Mirrored Room experience.

Bonus: A variety of special programs accompany this exhibit, including weekend pop-up performances and activities for kids.

SOLDIER/ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II at the National WWII Museum, New Orleans

Courtesy National WWII Museum

In New Orleans, the National WWII Museum‘s exhibit “SOLDIER |ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II” presents more than 150 artifacts exploring the unique military pastime of creating art, souvenirs, and tools out of the discarded materials and waste of war.

The collection ranges from ashtrays and jewelry to radios and musical instruments made by prisoners of war. Through January 2, 2022.

Bonus: The art deco Higgins Hotel, on the museum campus, helps tell the WWII story with artifacts, artwork, photography, and personal story plaques.

The American Struggle, by Jacob Lawrence, at the Seattle Art Museum

Panel16, 1956, Jacob Lawrence, from “Struggle: From the History of the American People.” Private collection, ©2021The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / ArtistsRights Society (ARS), New York.

Jacob Lawrence’s revolutionary, 30-panel series, “Struggle: From the History of the American People,” painted between 1954-1956, is reunited for the first time since 1958 in a touring exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) through May 23, 2021.

The modernist paintings depict pivotal moments from the American Revolution to westward expansion, with Black, female, and Native Americans in central roles. This is the only West Coast venue for the show. It moves on to the Phillips Collection, in Washington, D.C. from June 26 to September 19, 2021.   

Bonus: SAM has paired this exhibition with artwork by contemporary young artists that responds to Lawrence’s work and addresses the ongoing American struggle.

#HastagTheCowboy at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City

Courtesy National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

During the shutdown, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City handed over the reins of its social media account to the facility’s head of security, Tim Tiller.

The internet went wild.

“People from all around the world were drawn to Tim’s positive messages and a chance to learn something about the history and art of the American West,” says museum president and CEO Natalie Shirley.

Now that the museum has reopened, there’s a #HashtagTheCowboy exhibit that includes Tiller’s selfie-famous coffee mug and some of the gifts and art sent in by fans.

Bonus: The museum will be holding its annual Chuck Wagon Festival May 29-30, 2021, with chuck wagon and Native food samples, artist demonstrations, Western reenactors, and more.

Virtual museum experiences not going away

During the pandemic, virtual exhibitions and experiences were the only way many museums could connect with their audiences. There were challenges and some upsides.

“Responding to the challenge of the pandemic, we reached 7 million virtual visitors through live, guided programs and on-demand content in 2020,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. “This is something we will continue to do.”

Photo by Bob Delevante.   Courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum).

In fact, the museum just unveiled two new free-to-access online exhibitions.

Suiting the Sound: The Rodeo Tailors Who Made Country Stars Shine Brighter, explores the artistry of Western-wear designers whose couture designs helped create country’s music’s “rhinestone cowboy” image.

Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City  explores Bob Dylan’s 1960s Nashville recordings, the role Johnny Cash’s groundbreaking television show had in expanding the perception of Nashville, and the ace session musicians, known as the “Nashville Cats.”

Bonus: The museum is offering a variety of educational programming, including a collaboration with Nashville Fashion Week. Check the website for details.

Free Museum admission

Although the pandemic made deep dents in non-profit budgets, many museums reopen with their free admission and discount programs intact.

Others continue to participate in programs offering free museum passes.

Blue Star Museums offers free admission for active-duty military personnel, including the National Guard and Reserves and their families.

Other programs offering free admission include Museums for All (for SNAP program participants), Bank of America’s Museums on Us program (for those with Bank of America or Merrill credit or debit cards), and the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) Association, with more than 1000 art and cultural institutions that honor membership cards from other institutions in the network.

Bonus: Smithsonian Magazine Day, which was canceled in 2020, returns on September 18, 2021, with free admission passes to more than 600 participating museums, gardens, zoos, and attractions.

Where will you go? 1500 museums are free on Museum Day

Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day is coming up on September 21 and we’re celebrating because on that day 1500 museums will be joining in to offer free admission to anyone who downloads a ticket.

Many science centers, aquariums, zoos and gardens will be offering free admission on Museum Day as well.

The free nationwide event presents a great opportunity to stop in and revisit a favorite exhibit at a local cultural institution or visit a museum in a town you’re visiting without worrying about all the admission fees.

Where can you go?

This year, Museum Day is celebrating the Smithsonian Year of Music, with many participating museums offering special music-themed programming.

The Lightner Museum in Saint Augustine, FL, will host a museum-themed scavenger hunt in its galleries. The music will also demonstrate the electric self-playing violin, the Gem Roller Organ and many other early mechanical musical instruments in its collection;  

The Armenian Museum of America in Watertown, MA will have live Armenian music in the galleries;  

In Missoula, the Montana Natural History City will offer demonstrations and experiments to show and explain how different animals hear;  

In North Carolina, a high school Rock Orchestra will play a selection of train related songs at the Wilmington Railroad Museum;

And in Mumford, NY, the Genesee Country Village and Museum, the state’s largest living history museum will be celebrating early shape-note music with a shape-note sing open to all.

Many all-music-all-the-time museums are participating as well.

Museum Day visitors to MoPOP in Seattle, WA will have full access to galleries and to exhibits dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and more. 

Music-fans will also get full access to the music history offered at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles; to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, VA; and in Memphis, TN, to the Blues Hall of Fame, the Memphis Rock ‘N Soul Museum and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.

And in Kansas City, MO, the American Jazz Museum will host a jazz storytelling session that explores the sounds and styles of jazz and present a screening of “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary.” 

TThe full list of museums participating in Museum Day, September 21, can be found here. And Museum Day tickets can be downloaded here.

Only one ticket will be issued per email address, but each ticket is good for admission for two people.

(A slightly differen version of my story about Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day first appeared on CNBC)

Friday freebies: Free admission to parks and museums nationwide

Courtesy Art Institute of Chicago

Museums are great, but admission fees can sometimes make you think twice about checking out the exhibitions.

That’s why we love free museum days such as the Museums on Us program sponsored by Bank of America.

The program offers free general admission at more than 225 museums nationwide during the first full weekend of each month to anyone with a Bank of America, Merill Lynch or U.S. Trust credit or debit card.

This weekend, the first full weekend in September, you can get free admission in Chicago at the Alder Planetarium and the Art Institute of Chicago; in Atlanta at the Atlanta History Center and the High Museum of Art; and in San Francisco at the de Young Museum.

Check out the full list of museums offering free admission this weekend here.

Another year-round free entry program to keep in mind is the Every Kid Outdoors Program.

The program provides fourth graders with free, multi-use vouchers to national parks, wildlife refuges, marine sanctuaries, and forests and is a collaboration between the Department of the Interior, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Forest Service.

The bonus here is that because fourth graders aren’t likely to drive themselves to these sites, the vouchers not only provide free entry for fourth graders, but to all children under 16 in a group and up to three accompanying adults – or an entire car for drive-in parks.

Find details about getting the pass here. Vouchers are valid now through August 31, 2020.

Travel Tidbits for a holiday weekend

Have you had enough barbecue, fireworks and parades yet on this holiday weekend? If you need more things to do, consider going to a museum – for free.

Free Museum Admissions

As part of the Museums on Us program, more then 225 museums, science centers, gardens and other attractions around the country are offering free admission this weekend (July 6 and 7) to Bank of America debit or credit card holders. Many other attractions around the country are hosting special events as well.

Participating museums in the Museums of Us program range from the Seattle Museum of Art to Chicago’s Alder Planetarium and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York.

You can also take advantage of this offer at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan; at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia and the World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. Find more details here.

Curtiss biplane at Henry Ford

History, art or culture – for free – during Museum Day Live!

From “Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline”: ‘Minivan to the Polar Forest,’ by Ray Troll. Courtesy Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center

 

Spending time at a museum, garden, science center or a special cultural attraction is a great way to learn about a new subject or a city you’re visiting. But with some admission prices tipping the scales at $20, the costs of being curious can add up. Especially if you’ve got a family in tow.

That’s why the always-free-entry policy at Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. is such a great draw and why, once a year, Smithsonian magazine hosts Museum Day Live!, an event in which more than 1000 museums across the country waive admission for anyone who takes the time to download a free ticket.

2017 Museum Day Live! takes place this Saturday, September 23 and includes large and small museums in all 50 states.

Seattle’s Museum of Flight is on the list, as is the Carolina’s Aviation Museum, the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor  and Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinville, Oregon.

Visitors are permitted to download one ticket – granting access to the ticketholder and a guest – per email address. A full list of participating venues, including many with special events planned for the day, can be found here.

Here are some of the more than 1,300 participating museums to consider visiting

North to Alaska

Courtesy Anchorage Museum

The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center Alaska’s largest museum, is celebrating the opening of a brand new wing, refreshed galleries and several new exhibitions. A variety of media in ‘Art of the North’ offer varied takes on the Northern landscape and wilderness; the renovated ‘Alaska’ exhibition looks at the Land of the Midnight Sun through more than 400 objects; and ‘Cruisin’ the Ephemeral Coastline’ presents a quirky tour of Alaska fossils through the eyes of Alaska resident Ray Troll and paleontologist Kirk Johnson (director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History), who are described, respectively, as “an artist with a fondness for cheeseburgers, ratfish and trilobites” and a “a walrus-and ammonite-obsessed scientist.”

Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $15 per adult

Meteorites and microbes

From World in a Drop exhibition at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter, Harvard Medical School.

 

A ten-year participant in Museum Day Live!, Boston’s Harvard Museum of Natural History has just launched ‘World in a Drop: Photographic Explorations of Microbial Life,’ offering a rare and often beautiful view of tiny ecosystems. Equally intriguing exhibits elsewhere in the museum include a huge Triceratops skull, three huge whale skeletons, a 15-foot giraffe, thousands of rare minerals, meteorites and gemstones and the hard-to-believe-they’re-not-real collection of over 4000 glass flowers and plants made from 1887 through 1936 by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, father and son glass artisans from Germany.

Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $12 per adult.

Industrial History 

Photo courtesy of NMIH

 

Housed in a former Bethlehem Steel facility that is more than 100 years old, the National Museum of Industrial History is a shrine to America’s industrial history, displaying industrial artifacts from a variety of industries.

Among the items on display are a restored 115-ton Corliss steam engine that was once used to pump 8 million gallons of water a day, a 13-ton, 20-foot-tall Nasmyth steam hammer, and the Scalamandre “White House” loom that made fabric for every White House presidency from Hoover to Clinton. A temporary exhibition about baseball, “Making America’s Pastime,” shows how balls, bats, gloves and uniforms are made, and how they’ve changed over time.

“The museum opened in August 2016 and many in the community have yet to experience all that we have to offer,” said NMIH spokesman Glenn Koehler, “Museum Day Live! gives us a chance to bring those patrons into the museum and engage them in ways we might have not been able to otherwise.”

Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $12 per adult.

Popular culture 

Credit: Suzi Pratt

 

Ten interactive exhibits and galleries at MoPOP, Seattle’s Museum of Popular Culture (formerly the EMP) offer visitors a far-ranging tour of music history, contemporary pop culture, science fiction and fantasy and a variety of offbeat trends.

Beyond galleries devoted to the history and development of the electric guitar, Seattle-native Jimi Hendrix and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, current exhibitions include a photo retrospective about the of the late rock icon, David Bowie, and more than 100 artifacts  and props from the ‘Star Trek’ television series and films franchise.

Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $28 per adult

 The Lone Star State in World War I, plus a visit from a national treasure

Drafted men reporting for service. Camp Travis, San Antonio, Texas. Ca. 1917-18. San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. (War Dept.) National Archives

 At the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Institute of Texan Cultures is currently hosting exhibits exploring the history of beer, brewers and breweries in Texas (“Brewing up Texas”); the stories and customs of more than 20 of the earliest cultural groups to settle in Texas (“Texans One and All”); and the role played by citizens from the Lone Star State (198,000 men and 450 women) in the World War I.

Museum Day Live! visitors will get a special treat: from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eva Ybarra, the Queen of the Accordion and a newly minted recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, will perform in the museum and a documentary about Ybarra’s life will be premiered.

Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $10 per adult.

Credit: Adam Rodriguez

 Gardens galore

Not all participants in the Museum Day Live! are museums. In Phoenix, Arizona, the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden will welcome free ticket holders to explore the wildflowers, herbs, cacti, succulents and other plants on the garden’s five looped trails exploring the Sonoran Desert.

“Our Garden believes in celebrating the impact that all public gardens and museums have on their communities, and we’re so proud to have become one of the unofficial flagships for this annual event,” said, Ken Schutz, Executive Director of the Desert Botanical Garden, “In the short term, we may forego revenue on the actual day, but all the benefits that accrue over time more than make up for that.”

Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $24.95 per adult.

(My story about Smithsonian magazine’s 2017 Museum Day Live! first appeared on CNBC in a shorter version.)