Whether you are traveling in the U.S. or having a staycation this Saturday, be sure to include some culture. September 28 is Museum Day Live! (aka Free Museum Day), when museums all over the country open their doors without charging admission.
The annual event is inspired by the Smithsonian museums, which offer free admission every day. You’ll have to register and download your free ticket in advance, which will get two guests in free to participating museums.
A few of our favorite museums participating:
Chicago Smart Museum of Art
The University of Chicago’s art museum is always free, but this weekend is also the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, and museum-goers can also enjoy free concerts in the sculpture garden.
Dallas/Ft. Worth American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum
Regular price: $7 adults
Serious airline nerds, frequent flyers and those on a long layover can check out this museum of aviation and American AIrlines history, just a few miles from DFW airport. Exhibits include a rare Douglas DC-3 plane.
Las Vegas Burlesque Hall of Fame
Regular suggested donation or gift shop purchase: $5)
What’s Sin City without a little strip tease? See costumes, props and photos documenting the history, traditions and stars of burlesque dance. Los Angeles Grammy Museum
Regular price: $12.95 adults
Pop music lovers can check out four floors of music exhibits and memorabilia. The current exhibition features the career of Ringo Starr, including an interactive drum lesson with the Beatles‘ rhythm man himself.
New York Museum of Chinese in America
Regular price: $10 adults
Learn about the immigrant experience in New York’s Chinatown in a building designed by Maya Lin. Current special exhibitions on the glamour of Shanghai women and the role Chinese-American designers in fashion. Follow it up with dim sum in the neighborhood.
San Francisco Cartoon Art
Regular price: $7 adults
Take your comics seriously? This is the art museum for you, with 6,000 works of cartoon cels, comic strips and book art. Best. Museum. Ever.
Washington, D.C. Museum of Crime and Punishment
Regular price: $21.95
Value the free admission and your freedom at a museum dedicated to criminals and police work. Fans of police procedural TV shows will enjoy the CSI lab and the filming studio for “America’s Most Wanted.”
Frequent travelers like myself can get very jaded. The more you travel, the harder it is to find a place or an experience that really floors you. It’s very easy to bang around from one place to the next, devouring travel experiences whole and then concluding that was nice, what’s next? But every once in a great while, some place or some experience will shake me out of that spoiled, travel-induced stupor and into that giddy discovery buzz that reminds me why I travel in the first place.
I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those delirious discovery moments at a museum though, until I visited the J. Paul Getty art museum in Los Angeles last week. I appreciate fine art and photography but before visiting the Getty I’d never really been to a museum that I didn’t want to leave.
Aside from their jaw dropping collections, the place is like an idyllic refuge of beauty and serenity perched high above a gritty and, in some ways, unattractive sprawl of a city. You pay $15 to park, but admission is free. After parking, you board an electric, cable driven tram system that whisks you ¾ of a mile up to the museum, which sits 881 feet above sea level. The museum’s designer and architect, Richard Meier, designed the place in order to give visitors the feeling of being “elevated out of their day-to-day experience” and the complex of modern white buildings, fountains and gardens feels very much like an escape from L.A’s gritty, noisy bustle.
I was at the Getty, which opened in 1997, with my two little boys, ages 3 and 5, so we started our visit in the Family Room, where my sons made masks, drew, and lounged in a replica of a fancy 18th century French bed against the backdrop of replicas of some of the remarkable works of art we were about to experience. My boys insisted on wearing their masks all day and they left the Family Room in such a great mood that they happily let me wander the galleries and grounds for hours, feeling like little celebrities as loads of people stopped to compliment them on their masks.
The current headlining exhibition at the Getty is “Florence at the Dawn of the Renaissance,” which focuses on art from the first half of the 14th Century and runs through February 10 (most of the same pieces will also be in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario from March 16- June 16). It’s an extraordinary collection of pieces from museums and churches around the world that’s never been displayed in one place before.
The last time I was in Florence I was 24, and spent more time courting Scandinavian backpackers than soaking up the treasures at the Uffizi and other museums, so the icons, paintings, stained glass, manuscripts and medieval books were all new to me. As was their exhibit of the earliest illuminated copies of Dante’s masterpiece “Divine Comedy.”
I’d never even heard of featured artists like Giotto di Bondone, Bernardo (Who’s Your) Daddi, and Pacino di Bonaguido before, but their works of art absolutely floored me. Seeing their ornate, colorful, majestic works of art, many of them created to honor their religious faith, and digesting the fact that they were created 700 years ago made me wonder if people in the year 2712 will be as moved by anything that’s being created today the way I was by these works of art.
We also lingered over some remarkable black and white photos of Chicago and Philadelphia from the ’60s, and really set up shop on the upper level of the West Wing, where we basked in the glory of the great impressionists and had a good laugh watching every member of a Chinese tour group dutifully pose for a photo in front of Van Gogh’s “Irises,”which the museum paid $53.9 million to acquire. Oddly enough, none seemed interested in another painting just steps away that I think is far more interesting: Paul Gauguin’s painting “The Royal End,” which depicts the severed head of a Polynesian man.
It was a glorious sunny day, and we spent time checking out the South Promontory, which is a re-creation of a desert landscape, and the Central Garden, which has a reflecting pool with a maze of 400 azalea plants, before repairing to the café, where we were in for another surprise: damn good food at reasonable prices.
As we sat at an outdoor table, and tucked into some truly outstanding chicken quesadillas, basking in the warm sun like lizards and enjoying the almost-alpine views of pine trees and green mountains in the distance, I felt the bittersweet sadness that comes at the end of any great trip. I thought about buying an expensive T-shirt or coffee table book to commemorate what had been an idyllic day but decided instead to simply let the experience linger in my memory.
The truth is that I don’t just want to go back to the Getty some day – I want to live there amidst the art, the gardens, the vistas, and the wonderful cafeteria food. I don’t think I could afford the parking and the place closes at 5:30 p.m. each day, but a guy can always dream.
Note: If you have a Garmin GPS, don’t use it to find the museum, as it will get you lost in a residential neighborhood below the museum that won’t get you to the Getty. Follow the directions on the museum website. And if you can’t make it to L.A., check out the museum’s YouTube channel to get a flavor of the place.
[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, SodanieChea on Flickr and the Getty Museum]
From now until January 8, 2012, the Holburne Museum in Bath, England, will feature renowned lighting artist Bruce Munro‘s “Field of Light” exhibit. The art installation features over 5,000 light bulbs planted around the venue that alternate and shift their appearance in groups. A magical effect is created by acrylic stems topped with frosted spheres that contain fiber optic cables illuminated by a color projector.
Everyday from 4PM-7PM, the Field of Light is turned on, and visitors can enjoy strolling through the grounds free of charge. While exploring the exhibit, try to see if you can imagine the barren dessert in Australia and how it bursts into bloom after it rains. This image is what actually inspired Munro to create the work.
The Director the Holburne Museum, Alexander Sturgis, comments, “We are delighted that Bruce Munro’s artwork will bring such a magical experience of light within our grounds at the darkest time of the year. At what, for most people, is a frantic time of festive preparation we are pleased to be able to offer a tranquil and uplifting experience at the Holburne.”
If you’d like to visit the Holburne Museum, it is located on Great Pulteney Street. You can also check out the gallery below to get a better idea of exactly what this serene and mystical world really looks like.
Think you need to pay a fortune to learn something new or gain a little knowledge in New York? Think again. The Big Apple is actually full of free opportunities to take classes and hone your skills in dance, art, computers, comedy, acting, meditation, and more. Check out this list of fun, interesting, and free options.
Check out the New York Public Library class schedule Locations vary
The New York Public Library is not your average library. In fact, the collections in this library are on par with those of the British Library, the Library of Congress, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Music, film, art, and history exhibits are also part of the library’s regular programming, as are myriad of free classes. Everyday, the library hosts free classes that anyone can attend on an array of usual and unusual topics. Create beaded bookmarks, build your own periscope, bend and stretch during a Yoga session, become a better parent, or write a personal essay under the direction of a successful freelancer. Check their full schedule for a complete list of classes.Learn improv comedy at the Magnet Theater 254 W. 29th between 7th and 8th Ave.
If you’ve never taken an improv class, the Magnet Theater gives people a chance to try it out for free. No experience is required and the class is open to all. The instructors are professionals in the business and include Rick Andrews, who has taught at improv festivals across the country, Mark Grenier, who has studied both film and acting and has taught improv at various institutions and schools, and Megan Gray, who is the Artistic Director of the Magnet Theater and has a performed on cruise ships and written for major networks like MTV2 and Comedy Central.
Learn to Salsa with the NYC Salsa Fiesta Meetup Locations vary
Learn photography with PhotoManhattan 51 W. 14th St., between 5th & Avenue of the Americas
A few times each month, PhotoManhattan offers a free introductory photography seminar. Participants will learn about aperture, shutter-speed, film speeds, focal length, and light-meter for both digital and film cameras. Click here to check class times and sign up for yourself.
Learn to Meditate at NYC Meditation Locations vary
In Manhattan and Queens, NYC Meditation offers free meditation classes multiple times each month. The class will go over posture, breathing and concentration techniques, and how create your own mediation space at home. Contact the center to find out when their upcoming free meditation classes are.
This month, the Openhouse Gallery in New York hosted a free Austrian pop-up shop, which gave visitors a glimpse into what they could experience in terms of art, food, tours, culture, hotels, festivals, museums, and outdoor spaces if they visited Austria.
While the space itself was small, it had a lot to offer. The girls who worked the exhibit were extremely helpful and were happy to walk around with me to explain exactly what everything was I was looking at.
When first walking in, I was immediately struck by a giant painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt called “The Kiss”. In 2012, Vienna will celebrate his 150th birthday with an array of event and exhibits in his honor.
If visitors needed help planning a trip to visit Austria, the pop-up shop featured a travel lounge, as well, with comfortable white, leather couches and a table of tour packets, culinary books, travel advice, and even an Austrian memory and matching game called Craz.The most interactive part of the exhibit, and by far my favorite, was the sampling station. Authentic Austrian goodies to try included:
The next section of the pop-up shop expanded on the idea of art, design, and theater in Austria. Visitors were able to take a look at some Austrian craftsmanship from Wien Products, such as vases and other housewares. Pieces of outdoor furniture that are used to help create the lively atmosphere in the MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, one of the largest museums quarters in the world, were also on display.
Visitors could also learn about the theater culture of Austria, with the “Sound of Music” installation. The show, which is set in Austria, will debut at the Salzburger Landestheatre this Fall from October 23, 2011 to June 30, 2012. As you continue walking, you will also be able to explore a small gallery of historical Austrian paintings by Austrian artists.
At the end of the visit to the Openhouse Gallery’s Austrian pop-up shop (or the beginning, if you wanted), visitors were invited to enjoy some traditional Viennese coffee and desert in their Cafe Sacher, which included:
Wiener Melange- an espresso coffee with foamed milk
Grosser Brauner- a double espresso coffee with cream
a slice of original Sachertorte mit schlag with whipped cream
a homemade piece of Viennese apple strudel
The waitresses were even dressed in a traditional dirndl-style costume.