Spend your day exploring Houston's museums, while saving big with a well-edited list of the city's most-loved free things to do. Fortunately, for locals and visitors alike, more than a dozen of Houston's most memorable museums won't break the bank--in fact they won't even cost a dime.
The Menil Collection--a local treasure, global destination and one of the top free attractions in Houston--opened to the public in June 1987 to house the art collection of philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil. Widely considered one of the greatest of the twentieth century, the collection consists of more than 16,000 works dating from the Paleolithic era to the present day. Although historically vast, it uniquely resists the conventional museum model of the encyclopedia. Instead, within the four areas that largely define the collection--Antiquity, Byzantine and Medieval, Tribal, and Twentieth-Century Art (with a concentration in Surrealism)--one finds a selective and wonderfully eccentric approach to collecting and displaying art.
Rothko Chapel is a serene place to meditate in the middle of Houston's Museum District near The Menil Collection. Founded by John and Dominque de Menil (of Menil Collection fame), Rothko is a non-denominational chapel and exhibit space for modern art that draws thousands of visitors each year.
Dubbed the Garage Mahal, the Art Car Museum is unlike anything you've ever imagined. It's the only place you'll find the antennae and wing-cloaked Roachster or the Honda motorcycle that has been transformed into a shiny red rolling stiletto art car.
Houston's Contemporary Arts Museum focuses on showing new work from national and international artists. In addition to hosting exhibits, the CAMH also offers lectures, special programs and a stellar shop chock-full of unique books and gifts.
See the work of local and national artists who focus on using materials like fiber, metal, glass, clay and wood at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Located next door to Lawndale Art Center, the HCCC has innovative exhibits and unique gifts in the Asher Gallery. Admission is always free.
Located in the Museum District, the Lawndale Art Center is a staple of Houston's art scene. Four galleries are contained in the art deco structure, which serves as a backdrop for annually changing exhibits and events like Dia de los Muertos and The Big Show.
The Houston Museum of African American Culture is one of the city's newest museum institutions and is dedicated to telling the story of Africans and African Americans in Houston and beyond. Opened in 2012 inside the Houston Museum District, HMAAC offers dynamic programming, lectures and exhibitions that involve people of color. There are also film series, educational classes and even worship services at the campus on Caroline Street.
Set in a former auto shop, Midtown's Station Museum is a private organization dedicated to thought-provoking contemporary art displays. The museum does not feature a permanent collection, but does offer three-to-four changing shows each year. A variety of sculptures, drawings, videos and photographs often fill the space, focusing on everything from the fall of Communism and the freeing of Eastern Europe from Soviet control to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and life growing up in the United States.
Situated inside downtown's Sam Houston Park, the Heritage Society Museum is the city's only interactive, outdoor museum. The site features structures dating back to the 1820s, including a 4th-ward cottageand a Greek revival house build for Rice University founder William Marsh Rice. The museum itself is free, but guided tours are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $6 for kids.
Set in Houston's Third Ward, Project Row Houses is a nonprofit art initiative aimed at creating a positive place for local artists to work. Some of the shotgun-style houses are dedicated to art and photography, while others are devoted to the literary and performing arts.
Blaffer Art Museum, the University of Houston's laboratory for the visual arts and contemporary culture, focuses on the art of the past 100 years and its artistic, cultural and intellectual antecedents. Following a facility expansion in 1999, the museum now presents and/or originates between six to eight exhibitions annually.
Through its permanent exhibits, The Printing Museum (free for children 12 and younger) narrates the story of written communication and the ways in which the technologies of printing have transformed our lives. The galleries trace significant developments from ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets to the Chinese invention of movable type to Johann Gutenberg's printing press. American history is dramatized through newspaper accounts of major events from the American Revolution to the Civil War. The Museum also presents rotating exhibitions highlighting fine art prints, rare books, and artifacts.
Rice Gallery is the only university museum in the United States devoted to site-specific installation art. Five times a year, Rice Gallery invites contemporary artists to create new installations on-site. Rice Gallery funds the artist's creative process from start to finish, and installations here can become a turning point in an artist's career. Young artists have the opportunity to expand their processes into well-developed, large-scale works, while mid-career and established artists can "fine-tune" their ideas and methods.
Houston Center for Photography is one of only a handful of non-profit spaces around the country that is committed to showing great new photography. HCP has shown work from some of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century, in addition to the work of many emerging photographers who have gone on to great artistic success.
The Czech Cultural Center celebrates the culture of Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Silesia with events and exhibitions. The center features language classes, a museum, archives, genealogy resources, event facilities, library and an ecumenical chapel. Exhibits include Czech crystal, glass, porcelain, pottery, antique furniture, jewelry, folk costumes and fine art.
Museum Free Days
Buffalo Soldiers National Museum: Free Thursday 1 - 5 pm
Children's Museum of Houston: Free Thursday 5 - 8 pm
The Health Museum: Free Thursday 2 - 7 pm
The Holocaust Museum Houston: Free Thurday 2 - 5 pm
Houston Museum of Natural Science: Free Thursday after 3 pm
Houston Zoo: Free the first Tuesday of the month after 2pm (September through May only)
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Free Thursday 10 am - 9 pm
By GHCVB Staff
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