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Colors of the Midwest

Courtesy Columbus Museum of Art

All seems to come alive when you can stand close enough to see the brushstrokes.

We’ve all admired artwork printed in textbooks, reproduced on posters or mounted in public spaces. But two-dimensional facsimiles often fail to convey the beauty and vibrancy of art created by masters in the three-dimensional world.

Fortunately, art museums give us a place where we can see great artworks of the world up-close and in person. And the Midwest is home to some acclaimed museums where travelers
can see paintings, sculpture and other media from throughout time and around the globe.

Art museums make great stops on a group tour itinerary in the heartland states. Groups can split up and take in the museum at their own pace or take docent-led tours that focus on highlights and themes of a museum’s collection. Many museums also offer hands-on art experiences for groups.

When you plan your next group trip through the Midwest, consider spending some time at one of these five great art museums.

Grand Rapids Art Museum

Grand Rapids, Michigan
In 1910, a group of Grand Rapids ladies set about beginning an art collection that would eventually lead to an art museum for their city. They began with $444, which they used to acquire 11 paintings.

Through the following decades, the organization and its collection grew quickly. In 1924, it purchased a Greek Revival home that eventually became the Grand Rapids Art Museum. In 2007, the museum moved into a new purpose-built facility that features a 25-foot wall sculpture hanging prominently in the lobby. The new building was the world’s first art museum to receive LEED Gold certification for its environmental and energy efficiency.

Today, the museum has a permanent collection of more than 5,000 works of art. Of those, 3,500 are works on paper (such as prints, drawings and photographs). The oldest work on paper dates to 1500, and the collection ranges all the way to 20th-century art.

Another 1,200 pieces are works of design and modern art such as furniture, ceramics, glass, metal and textiles. Painting and sculptures — primarily 19th- and 20th-century works from Europe and the United States — account for 300 more pieces.

Groups that visit the museum can tour the various galleries and see the “green” elements of the modern building’s architecture. Interactive art workshops can be arranged as well, giving groups opportunities to create abstract or landscape art in a variety of media.

Columbus Museum of Art
Columbus, Ohio
Exciting new things have come to the Columbus Museum of Art, an institution that was founded in 1878.

“We recently underwent a renovation of the building that we constructed in the 1930s,” said marketing and communications manager Nancy Colvin. “We unveiled those in January of 2011. We’re currently building a garden on the west side of our building.”

The renovation brought a new Center for Creativity, where visitors can have hands-on art experiences. One highlight is a photo booth where people can take their own pictures, then use computer programs to manipulate them. Multimedia “connectors” throughout the museum — like puzzles and talk-back stations — help visitors slow down and think about art and their connections to it.

The museum staff also took advantage of the renovation to reimagine the way they present their permanent collection.

“Instead of hanging things in a chronological fashion or sorting them by region, we had the galleries installed in themes,” Colvin said. “There’s a room called Picasso and Friends that has works by Picasso and by artists who influenced him or were influenced by him.

“It helps people to make connections. You might see an impressionist work, then a pop art piece right next to it. You can see the progression of work that people have done in exploring color and see how art evolves over time.”

Groups can schedule docent-led tours of the museum, which last about 50 minutes. These highlight tours include works such as a Dale Chihuly glass chandelier, as well as a gallery of Italian glass art. Participants will also see paintings by Monet, Matisse and other impressionist masters.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.