What could be more meta than a brief history of Austin’s History and Art Museums? Although the pandemic has significantly reduced capacity – and in some cases closed indefinitely – local museums, many of these institutions have pivoted, offering virtual and online exhibitions, outdoor events or socially distanced 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 back roads across the state. The museum opened in 2001 and bills itself as “Texas History,” and it is indeed. The museum includes permanent and temporary exhibits, an IMAX theater, a Texas Spirit Theater, three floors of exhibit space dedicated to Texas history (and Austin history), a gift shop, and a cafe. There are also a number of distance learning courses available to the public where you can take a real time, virtual visit to the museum.
The LBJ Presidential Library and Museum
Located on 30 acres of land at the northeast end of the UT campus, the library opened in May 1971 and is dedicated to the 36th President, Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ was born on 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 served as Vice President and President of the United States during a turbulent time in history, and the library reflects his tenure. It’s filled with over 45 million paper documents, interactive exhibits (including the stretch limo 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 on line.
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 by artists from around the world, in an outdoor setting and an urban setting. Classes, special events and conferences are offered at both locations. The Jones Center opened to Congress in 1998 as the Jones Center for Contemporary Art. In 2002 it was changed to Arthouse only to be changed 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 show of the year. Although the Austin-based artist was forced to push back her exhibit to September due to the pandemic, residents revel in the installation of Little man, little man on the side of the museum last fall. Advanced and timed ticket Reservations are mandatory 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 throughout the grounds. Walking around the property creates a sense of wonder in visitors and is a primary social distancing activity. It was originally owned by Stephen F. Austin, but was purchased in 1914 by notorious philanthropist Clara Driscoll, who built the iconic home 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. Like the Jones Center, advanced and timed ticket Reservations are required to visit the Laguna Gloria.
The Blanton Art Museum
The Blanton, as it’s known, 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 more than 18,000 pieces by world-renowned artists. The Blanton is constantly adding to its collection and in addition to the art gallery space there is the spellbinding Ellsworth Kelly Austin next to the establishment. As part of a multi-million dollar revamp, there will be a shaded canopy (with picnic and dining area) connecting the two buildings. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2022. Reserved and timed tickets are available obligatory.
The Neill-Cochran House Museum
The Neill-Cochran House Museum sits just west of the UT campus at 2310 San Gabriel Street and was built in 1855 in a Greek Revival style on what was then 18 acres of land “the country”. 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 of the area’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 longtime first families who resided in the house. The indoor exhibits offer an accurate and almost eerie glimpse into life in early 1900s Austin, while the outdoor grounds host events such as Civil War re-enactors and Victorian ladies, embroidery classes, lectures on books, room rentals and Sunday Fundays on the second Sunday of each month with free programming. Self-guided tours are availablebut 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 final residence of Susanna Dickinson Hannig (Alamo courier) and Joseph Hannig. The house was restored and became a city museum in 2010. Susanna’s first husband, Captain Almaron Dickinson, died during the Alamo siege while Susanna and their young daughter, Angelina, were hiding in the inside the Alamo walls. Susanna’s Last Home in Brush Square is a testament to frontier life and many permanent artifacts from the home are in the house for visitors to witness and learn from. The museum is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, but its library of resources and exhibits is available on line.
The Bob Bullock Museum.
Photo courtesy of Bullock Texas State History Museum
The Bob Bullock Museum.