Art moves us.
Art can stimulate our own creativity, encourage dialogue, reflect the political climate of a time and teach us about history and humankind. It can immerse us in different cultures and make us feel part of a global community.
Art museums are wonderful year-round destinations with plenty to see, including both temporary and permanent exhibitions. They also have special programming, from docent-led tours and art-making workshops to lectures and live music.
Here, we highlight a few of the country’s most notable art museums, where groups can take in inspiring works of art and explore their own creativity.
Milwaukee Art Museum
The Milwaukee Art Museum started in 1888 and has grown to a 31,000-piece collection housed in a four-story building with 40 galleries. The museum was designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen, with a later addition by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Its permanent collection is known for 20th-century European and American works by the likes of Braque, Kandinsky and Picasso, as well as pre-1900 decorative arts and many German expressionist prints. With such a sizable trove of artworks, only 10% of the entire collection is on display at any one time.
“We try to have a great mix of artists, from classics to modern artists,” said public relations director Josh Depenbrok. “The work runs the gamut of all materials, from painting to sculpture, and through all eras.”
The museum features a noteworthy photography collection from photographers such as Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand, as well as one of the world’s foremost collections of Haitian art. It has a series of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings and two large collections of American folk art and self-taught art.
Docent-led tours can offer a general overview of the museum or focus on a specific collection or exhibit. There are also hands-on art projects available for visitors.
In 2017, Newfields combined its various branches into one entity, making it one of the largest museum groups in the country. Its 152-acres campus includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Fairbanks Park, the Garden, Lilly House and the Elder Greenhouse, which is surrounded by historic landscapes, gardens, an art and nature park, performance areas, outdoor sculptures, and wetlands and woodlands. The museum was founded in 1883 and today has an encyclopedic collection of 54,000 pieces covering 5,000 years.
“Our 152-acre cultural campus offers exceptional experiences with art and nature,” said communications coordinator Emily Sogard. “We have one of the best neoimpressionist collections outside of France; Robert Indiana’s original Love sculpture; and Rembrandt’s earliest known self-portraits, plus rotating and traveling exhibitions.”
Recent exhibitions from its collection include “A Brush With Beauty: Japanese Paintings in Ink, Color and Gold,” which features not only the museum’s world-renowned collection of Edo-period paintings but also masterpieces spanning 700 years of Japanese painting. Japan is the year’s thematic thread, so one of the most notable temporary exhibits this year is Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored infinity room along with a four-floor special exhibition of her work.
Tours are arranged to fit the interests of the group and include museum collection highlights and spotlight tours of specific galleries and special exhibitions. One tour, the Closer Look tour, offers a deep dive into one piece of art or a history tour that focuses on one period of art. Tours are also offered of the Garden, the Lilly House and the 100-acre Art and Nature Park.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art began at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876. Memorial Hall, constructed for the event, remained open, exhibiting modern-day objects, books, and fine and decorative art objects such as ivories, jewelry, pottery, paintings, porcelain and textiles. The Main Building opened in 1928 and had 1 million visitors in its first year. Today, its entrance is being renovated, adding 23,000 square feet of gallery space for its modern and contemporary collections. The campus includes the Perelman Building, the Rodin Museum and two historic 18th-century houses in Fairmount Park, Mount Pleasant and Cedar Grove.
“The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the cultural heart of the city,” said Shari Feldman, manager of groups sales and tourism. “The museum is based on 2,000 years of fine arts and ranges from a variety of different cultural places and timelines up to contemporary American art.”
The museum is known for its impressionist and post-impressionist collection, with works by Cezanne, van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Degas, and its campus includes the Rodin Museum, which features the largest collection of Rodin sculpture outside France. A 10-minute walk from the Main Building, it features indoor and outdoor works by the renowned sculptor. Another interesting aspect of the collection are its architectural settings — like the Japanese teahouse, the French medieval cloister and the Gilded Age drawing room — that offer a walk through time and space.
There are self-guided and docent-led tours available for groups, and tickets are good for two days’ admission at both the Main and Rodin museums. The museum holds special events such as yoga classes in the galleries, plus a quarterly evening event called Friday Remix, when the galleries are full of music, dancing, art-making and performances.
High Museum of Art
The High Museum of Art is in midtown Atlanta and features seven curatorial departments, among them African art, European art and modern and contemporary art. It was one of the first museums in the country to recognize the significance of photography as an artform, and its collection includes work from Walker Evans and Eugene Atget and photos of the civil rights movement. The High was also the first museum to establish a collection of folk and self-taught artists. They also have special exhibitions, like the recent Sally Mann photography exhibit, work by children’s book author Maira Kalman and Yuri Suzuki’s outdoor sound playground.
“We’re one of the leading museums in the Southeast, with over 17,000 works of art in our permanent collection,” said Marci Tate Davis, manager of public relations. “We hold special talks and tours related to our special exhibitions, docent-led tours, daily highlights tours of our permanent collection and weekend family tours.”
Though groups can take self-guided or docent-led tours, there are several options for specialty tours as well, including Adventures in Architecture, Discover African Art and Women in Art. One Friday a month, the museum hosts High Frequency Fridays, an evening event that features docent-led tours, theater performances, music, and a theater performance and cocktails. Monthly Friday Jazz features live jazz music, cocktails and open galleries. At both of these events, the museum hosts Drink and Draw, where guests can sketch live models.
The Greene Family Learning Gallery is a space within the museum that is used for classes and interactive art-making and has a play area. Conversation Pieces is a monthly event, with museum educators looking at one piece of art and talking about it. The museum hosts lectures by the artists whose work is featured there; they are often sold out.
Denver Art Museum
In the heart of downtown Denver, the Denver Art Museum is one of the top-20 most-attended art museums in North America. A phased opening of its newly renovated Martin Building will start in June; it will include 12,000 square feet of dedicated classroom spaces, a conservation lab where museum guests can observe conservation work in action and a design studio similar to the one in the adjacent Hamilton Building where museumgoers can create art and watch hands-on art demonstrations.
“For me, the museum is so unique because of the exhibits that come through,” said group services supervisor Jessica Herchenroeder. “We want to present exhibitions that are relevant and that people can connect with in an engaging way.”
Past exhibitions have highlighted Monet, Star Wars and Dior, as well as local artists like Jonathan Saiz and Jordan Casteel. The museum includes some of the most robust collections of Western American, Native American, Latin American, Asian and European art in the country. To present parts of its permanent collections in a unique way, artworks from different eras, styles, cultures and collections are organized around a theme. “It’s a really interesting way to break down barriers between different cultures and talk about different styles of art,” Herchenroeder said.
Many of the galleries present areas for art creation, from coloring pages to drawing stools, along with the Design Studio. Groups can take self-guided or docent-led tours of special exhibitions or join Talk at 12, an in-depth look at an aspect of the museum’s collection, each Wednesday and Friday. The Custom Access Tours are adaptable and customizable tours, and several special programs are available for those with dementia, autism, low vision or sensory issues.