What could be more meta than a brief history of Austin’s history and art museums? Although the pandemic has dramatically reduced the capacity – and in some cases closed indefinitely – local museums, many of these institutions have pivoted, offering virtual and online exhibitions, outdoor events, or socially distant walks in the galleries.
Bullock State History Museum
The Bullock State History Museum, located at 1800 Congress Ave., is a few blocks north of the Texas State Capitol. The museum is named after former Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, a longtime politician who loved Texas history and enjoyed traveling the state’s back roads. The museum opened in 2001 and bills itself as “Texas History”, and it is. The museum includes permanent and temporary exhibits, an IMAX theater, a Texas Spirit Theater, three floors of exhibit space devoted to Texas history (and Austin history), a gift shop, and a coffee shop. There are also a number of distance learning courses available to the public where you can take a real-time virtual tour of the museum.
The LBJ Presidential Library and Museum
Located on 30 acres of land on the northeastern edge of the UT campus, the library opened in May 1971 and is dedicated to the 36th President, Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ was born August 27, 1908 in central Texas. He attended Teachers College in San Marcos and taught in Cotulla (near the Texas-Mexico border). LBJ has dedicated his life’s work to the causes of eradicating poverty and ending discrimination. LBJ was Vice President and President of the United States during a turbulent period in history and the library reflects his tenure. It’s filled with over 45 million paper documents, interactive exhibits (including the stretch limousine he used during his visit to Austin) both permanent and temporary. The museum is closed indefinitely due to the pandemic, but there is a rich library of digital resources and virtual exhibits online.
Contemporary Austin – Jones Center
The Contemporary is a world-class art museum with two locations: the Jones Center on Congress Avenue and Laguna Gloria in West Austin. Contemporary Austin is a combination of exhibitions of works of art by artists from around the world, in an outdoor setting and an urban setting. Courses, special events and conferences are offered at both locations. The Jones Center opened at Congress in 1998 as the Jones Center for Contemporary Art. In 2002 it was changed to Arthouse and again in 2010 to Contemporary Austin – Jones Center. On a more modern note, on January 23, the Jones Center finally opens “Deborah Roberts: I’m,” perhaps the most anticipated exhibition of the year. Although the Austin-based artist was forced to postpone her exhibition to September due to the pandemic, residents were in for a treat with the installation of Little man, little man near the museum last fall. Advance and timed ticket reservations are required to visit the museum.
Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria
The majestic Laguna Gloria, at 3809 W. 35th St. (at the end of 35th Street), is a lush 14 acre site on Lake Austin with outdoor sculptures dotted around the grounds. Walking around the property creates a sense of wonder in visitors and is a premier social distancing activity. Originally owned by Stephen F. Austin, but was purchased in 1914 by renowned philanthropist Clara Driscoll, who built the iconic house with architectural designs inspired by Italian villas. The land was donated to the city in 1943 to become a public museum and in 1961 it officially became the Laguna Gloria Art Museum. As with the Jones Center, advance ticket reservations are required to visit Laguna Gloria.
Blanton Art Museum
The Blanton, as it is called, opened in 1963 and is located at 200 E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., across from the Bullock. The Blanton is one of the country’s leading art museums and features over 18,000 pieces by world-renowned artists. Le Blanton is constantly enriching its collection and in addition to the art gallery space there is the fascinating Ellsworth Kelly Austin next to the establishment. As part of a multi-million dollar overhaul, a shaded canopy (with picnic area and dining area) will connect the two buildings. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2022. Reserved and timed tickets are required.
The Neill-Cochran House Museum
The Neill-Cochran House Museum is located just west of the UT campus at 2310 San Gabriel Street and was built in 1855 in Greek Revival style on what was then 18 acres of land “in the countryside”. Throughout its history, it housed slaves and a Federal War Hospital in the latter part of the Civil War commanded by General Custer, and served as the campus for the region’s first school for the blind. There is no Neill Cochran, but the house and museum are named after the Neill and Cochran families, two early longtime families who resided in the house. The indoor exhibits provide an accurate and almost eerie glimpse into early 1900s Austin life, while the outdoor grounds host events such as Civil War and Victorian ladies’ reenactments, embroidery classes, lectures on books, room rentals and Sunday Sundays on the second Sunday of each month with free programming. Self-guided tours are available, but due to social distancing, guided tours have been temporarily suspended.
Susanna Dickinson Museum
This downtown museum is located at 411 E. Fifth St. in Brush Square, a historic district of Austin. The house is the last residence of Susanna Dickinson Hannig (messenger of the Alamo) and Joseph Hannig. The house was restored and became a city museum in 2010. Susanna’s first husband, Captain Almaron Dickinson, died during the Siege of Alamo while Susanna and their young daughter, Angelina, were in hiding at the inside the walls of Alamo. Susanna’s last home in Brush Square is a testament to life on the border, and there are many permanent home artifacts in the home for visitors to witness and learn. The museum is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, but its library of resources and exhibits is available online.