Culture & Arts

19 Free Art Museums You Should Visit This Summer

“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage," Lyndon B. Johnson famously proclaimed, while signing into existence the National Endowment for the Arts. "For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation."

Art museums across the country continue to uphold Johnson's rather romantic sentiment, providing patrons with an evolving glimpse of this "inner vision." As summer approaches, and the vacation bug sets in, you might find yourself in cities across America with more free time than usual. It's the perfect season to explore the country's various art institutes -- particularly the ones funded by tax payers and philanthropic collectors. Yes, we're talking about the United States' free art museums.

These gems, scattered from New York City to Los Angeles, provide art lovers with the space to relish paintings, photography, sculpture, performance and everything in between. Because May 18 marks International Museum Day, an event first celebrated across the world in 1977, we've compiled a list of the 19 destinations you should visit in the next few months. Behold:

1. The Getty Center in Los Angeles

the getty center

Where: Los Angeles, California
What: Part of the Getty Museum (and the larger Getty Trust family), the Center pays special tribute to 20th century art and architecture, with an outdoor garden you can't miss.
On view now: Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography

"Mr. Getty believed that art was a civilizing influence in society that should be freely available to the public for education and enjoyment," Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, wrote to HuffPost. "Thanks to his generosity, we are able to offer free admission to the nearly 1.8 million visitors who come to the Getty Center and Getty Villa to enjoy our renowned collections and wide range of public programs. We are also able to take arts education into K-12 classrooms, and bring students to the Museum on Getty-funded buses to experience the arts firsthand -- often for the first time."

2. The Saint Louis Museum of Art


Where: St. Louis, Missouri
What: Smack dab in the middle of the city's Forest Park, admission to this institute (a part of the former 1904 World's Fair grounds) is free through a subsidy from the cultural tax district for St. Louis City and County.
On view now: Creatures Great and Small: Animals in Japanese Art

"The phrase 'dedicated to art and free to all' is engraved in stone above our front entrance," Brent R. Benjamin, the director of the Saint Louis Art Museum, proclaimed to The Huffington Post. "I believe there is virtue -- the rather old-fashioned notions of civic welcome and hospitality -- to the fact that the taxpayers of St. Louis offer admission to their Art Museum free of charge to all visitors, regardless of where they reside, a generosity of spirit that now dates back more than a century."

3. The Cleveland Museum of Art

cleveland museum of arts

Where: Cleveland, Ohio
What: The museum houses over 43,000 works in its permanent collection thanks to a trust founded in 1913. The holdings place an emphasis on Asian and Egyptian art, but the museums showcases everything from Surrealist photography to landscape paintings of Maine.
On view now: The Novel and the Bizarre: Salvator Rosa's Scenes of Witchcraft

4. The Baltimore Museum of Art


Where: Baltimore, Maryland
What: This museum -- free thanks to grants from Baltimore City and Baltimore County -- houses mostly 19th and 20th century art. The Cone collection alone has pieces by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Pierre-August Renoir. Fun fact, this museum possesses the largest holding of Matisse works in the world.
On view now: On Paper: Spin, Crinkle, Pluck

"As we celebrate our 100th Anniversary, we are thrilled that The Baltimore Museum of Art can make the civic legacy of our incredible art collection accessible to all, free-of-charge," Doreen Bolger, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, explained via email. "This makes the BMA not only a destination for cultural tourists who visit our city, but also an anchor institution for our community, serving more people -- families, for example, have tripled their participation in our Free Family programs."

5. Des Moines Art Center

des moines art center
Photo courtesy of Facebook/Cameron Campbell

Where: Des Moines, Iowa
What: As a not-for-profit, the Art Center focuses on both local and international artists. Its permanent collection numbers at 4,800, stressing 20th and 21st century pieces.
On view now: Fiber: Sculpture 1960-present

6. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

national gallery of art washington

Where: Washington, D.C.
What: The National Gallery was created out of a joint resolution from the United States Congress, intended to be public and free of charge. One of its claims to fame: it owns the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the Americas.
On view now: The Memory of Time: Contemporary Photographs

7. Frye Art Museum in Seattle

frye art museum

Where: Seattle, Washington
What: The museum is well known for its painting and sculpture collections from the 19th century to today. The institute is Seattle's first free art museum.
On view now: American Portraits 1880–1915

"The Frye Art Museum in Seattle is free for good. By which I mean: we’re free both forever, and for the benefit of everyone in the diverse communities we serve," Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, director of Seattle's iconic free art haven, explained to The Huffington Post. "Charles and Emma Frye, our founders, were visionary civic leaders and philanthropists. Their legacy ensures that access is a core value and has enabled us to offer some hope and joy through the recent hard times. Funding has been slashed for art education and many in our community are seeking sanctuary and a welcoming place for contemplation. We’re especially pleased that artists face no financial barrier to visiting the Frye. Why does it work so well? We’re the place to experience art in the everyday at no cost."

8. Minneapolis Institute of Arts

minneapolis institute of arts

Where: Minneapolis, Minnesota
What: Opened in 1915, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has around 87,000 pieces in its permanent collection.
On view now: American Modernism: Selections from the Kunin Collection

9. Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia


Where: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
What: "Ever since Andy Warhol and his entourage caused a near-riot here in 1965," the ICA writes online, this museum has been bringing contemporary art to Philly. Artists like Warhol, Laurie Anderson, Agnes Martin, and Robert Indiana had their first ever museum shows here.
On view now: Julia Feyrer and Tamara Henderson: Consider the Belvedere

10. The Menil Collection in Houston

menil collection

Where: Houston, Texas
What: The Menil's private collection has everything from Yves Tanguy to Man Ray to Mark Rohtko.
On view now: Takis: The Fourth Dimension

11. The Bronx Museum of the Arts

the bronx museum of arts

Where: New York, New York
What: The Bronx Museum of Arts focuses on 20th century to present day American artists. Its permanent collection is small but mighty at around 800 paintings, sculptures and photographs.
On view now: Jaime Davidovich: Adventures of the Avant-Garde

12. The Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston

contemporary arts museum in houston

Where: Houston, Texas
What: CAMH is a non-collecting museum that exhibits American, international and Texan contemporary art.
On view now: Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty

13. The Hammer in Los Angeles


Where: Los Angeles, California
What: After a disagreement with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Armand Hammer started his own museum to showcases his collection. Now the 79,000-square-foot museum is open to the public for free.
On view now: Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings from 1860 to Now

14. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville

crystal bridges museum

Where: Bentonville, Arkansas
What: Founded by Alice Walton, this 217,000-square-foot complex celebrates American art in a state you might not expect it -- Arkansas.
On view now: Changing Perspectives of Native Americans

15. MOCA Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles

moca pacific design center

Where: Los Angeles, California
What: A branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, this smaller complex is nestled inside the massive Pacific Design Center. And it's free!
On view soon: Tongues Untied

16. Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City

nelsonatkins museum

Where: Kansas City, Missouri
What: The shuttlecock in the front lawn of the Nelson-Atkins, created by Claes Oldenburg, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the 33,500-piece collection.
On view now: American Folk Art from the Collection of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

17. Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum

eli and edythe broad art museum

Where: East Lansing, Michigan
What: Located at Michigan State University, Eli Broad and his wife donated $26 million to this museum, which opened in 2012.
On view now: Trevor Paglen: The Genres

18. Dallas Museum of Art

dallas museum of art

Where: Dallas, Texas
What: The DMA has a permanent collection dating from the third millennium BC to the present day.
On view now: Between Action and the Unknown: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga

19. American Folk Art Museum in New York City

american folk art museum

Where: New York, New York
What: This museum focuses on "self-taught" artists who create everything from portraits to quilts.
On view now: When the Curtain Never Comes Down

Bonus: The Rothko Chapel in Houston

the rothko chapel

Where: Houston, Texas
What: Rothko, Rothko and more Rothko.
On view now: Rothko

A version of this post was originally published in December of 2014.

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