If you've never visited the Houston area, you might be surprised to learn that this South Texas metropolis is home to some of the most interesting and valuable collections of fine art and museums—20 museums, to be exact, which highlight art, culture, science and history.
There is really something—or a museum in this case—for everyone’s taste. From places like the Holocaust Museum Houston to the Houston Center for Photography, a trip to the Museum District might end up taking a few days to complete. However, the new Museum Experience has made all of the museums in the district easier to explore.
To attract more visitors to more museums, the Museum District has created The Museum Experience. Each Experience is designed to highlight a different walkable zone of the district and be a “cultural block party,” creating a more intimate way for visitors to navigate through the area and experience a handful of museums in one afternoon.
“This approach helps visitors divide and conquer the district, one area at a time,” says Laurette Cañizares, the executive director of the Houston Museum District. “It also encourages visitors to explore some of the remarkable small to mid-sized institutions and allow them to sample what the museums offer year-round. It’s more than what’s on their walls—it’s film, dance, lectures, workshops, classes, etc. Many people aren’t aware of that. The smaller footprint allows a more casual and intimate vibe than our previous annual open house, giving visitors the opportunity to learn more about each museum.’’
According to Cañizares, museums have recruited a number of volunteers and members through these events because they can actually engage with each visitor.
“One of the main goals of the Museum Experience events is to promote the walkability of this area. It has encouraged visitors to stay in one area and explore the museums in that zone. The Museum Experience has improved the way our visitors navigate through the area and lessened the number of cars on the road in the District. This isn’t new to other parts of the country, but a huge challenge in car-centric Houston.”
The Experience also features multiple food trucks, special programming, pedicabs, Houston B-Cycles (a bike sharing program) and METRORail availability during each of the events, which are on the last Saturday in January, April, July and September.
Since 11 of the 20 museums offer free admission every day, and the rest of the museums provide designated times during which visitors can get in for free, the accessibility to the Museum District is viewed as spectacular—visitors can see something new every day.
“The Museum District is one of the largest concentrations of cultural institutions within walking distance of one another in the country,” Cañizares notes. “We like to think that the museums in the district are representative of the diverse, creative communities found throughout Houston.”
One of the most notable and world-renowned museums is The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). MFAH is the oldest art museum in Texas and one of the largest in the United States. It encompasses approximately 64,000 works of art from six continents and comprises two house museums, an art school, a sculpture park and a library, all open to the public. One of the house museums is the Rienzi, a sprawling estate situated on four acres of wooded gardens in the historic River Oaks neighborhood, which houses an extensive collection of European decorative arts, paintings, furnishings, porcelain and miniatures.
The Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, the other MFAH house museum, features one of the world’s finest collections of American decorative art, furnishings, silver, ceramics and paintings. The house is situated on 14 acres of organically maintained gardens in Houston’s historic and exclusive River Oaks neighborhood.
The Menil Collection—consisting of approximately 17,000 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, photographs and rare books, making it one of the largest privately assembled collections of the 20th century—is a Houston museum that is better known internationally rather than locally. In addition, its permanent Surrealism exhibit is regarded as one of the world’s foremost collections of its kind.
“The quality of museums that reside in Houston helps bring certain exhibits that wouldn’t otherwise come through Houston,” says Cañizares. “For example, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston presented the unprecedented ‘Black and White Picasso’ exhibit, and the Kenwood House and National Gallery of Art’s collections were relocated to Houston while both went through remodeling. All of this in Houston's backyard!”
And that’s just two of the 20 museums.
With its close proximity to the world-renowned Texas Medical Center, Hermann Park, Rice University, The Houston Zoo and countless upscale hotels and restaurants, the district is truly not just a museum experience that visitors get, but a cultural and enriching experience unlike any other.
“Art is everywhere in Houston and as a result, I think we actually help challenge the notions of what qualifies as art in the world,” Cañizares says.
For more information on the Houston Museum District and the Museum Experience, visit the website.