History of Austin
7 essential Austin art and history museums we can't wait to visit
What's more meta than a brief history of Austin's history and art museums? Though the pandemic has dramatically reduced capacity — and in some cases indefinitely closed — local museums, many of these institutions have pivoted, offering virtual and online exhibitions, outdoor events, or socially distant strolls through galleries.
Bullock State History Museum
The Bullock State History Museum, located at 1800 Congress Ave., is just a few blocks north of the Texas State Capitol. The museum is named for former Lt. Governor Bob Bullock, a longtime politician who loved Texas history and enjoyed traveling back roads throughout the state. The museum opened in 2001 and bills itself as 'The Story of Texas," and indeed it is. The museum includes permanent and temporary exhibitions, an IMAX theater, a Texas Spirit Theater, three floors of exhibit space devoted to Texas history (and Austin history), a gift shop, and cafe. There are also a number of distance learning classes available for the public where you can take a real-time, virtual tour of the museum.
The LBJ Presidential Library & Museum
Located on a 30-acre piece of land on the northeastern edge of the UT campus, the library opened in May 1971 and is devoted 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 school in Cotulla (near the Texas/Mexico border). LBJ devoted his life's work to the causes of eradicating poverty and ending discrimination. LBJ served as Vice President and President of the U.S. during a turbulent time in history and the library reflects his time in office. It is filled with over 45 million paper documents, interactive exhibits (notably the stretch limo that he used when visiting Austin) both permanent and temporary. The museum is closed indefinitely due to the pandemic, but there is a rich digital resources library and virtual exhibits online.
The Contemporary Austin — Jones Center
The Contemporary is a world-class art museum boasting two locations: The Jones Center on Congress Avenue and Laguna Gloria in West Austin. Contemporary Austin is a combination of artwork exhibitions from artists around the world, in an outdoor setting and an urban setting. Classes, special events, and lectures are offered at both locations. The Jones Center first opened on 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 the Contemporary Austin — Jones Center. On a more modern note, on January 23, the Jones Center finally, finally opens “Deborah Roberts: I’m," perhaps the most anticipated show of the year. Though the Austin-based artist was forced to push back her exhibition in September due to the pandemic, residents got a treat with the installation of Little man, little man on the side of the museum this past fall. Advanced, timed ticket reservations are required to visit the museum.
The Contemporary Austin — Laguna Gloria
The majestic Laguna Gloria, at 3809 W. 35th St. (at the tail-end of 35th Street), is a lush 14-acre site on Lake Austin with outdoor sculptures dotted throughout the grounds. Strolling the property creates a sense of wonderment in visitors, and is a prime social distancing activity. Originally, it belonged to Stephen F. Austin, but was purchased in 1914 by Clara Driscoll, noted philanthropist, who built the landmark 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. Like the Jones Center, advanced, timed ticket reservations are required to visit the Laguna Gloria.
The Blanton Museum of Art
The Blanton, as it is known, opened its doors 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 from world-renowned artists. The Blanton is constantly adding to its collection and in addition to the art gallery space, there is Ellsworth Kelly's mesmerizing Austin next to the facility. As part of a multimillion-dollar overhaul, there will be a shaded canopy (complete with picnic and dining area) connecting the two buildings. The project is anticipated to be finished in late 2022. Reserved, timed tickets are required.
The Neill-Cochran House Museum
The Neill-Cochran House Museum is just west of the UT campus at 2310 San Gabriel St., and was built in 1855 in a Greek Revival style on what was then 18 acres of "country" land. Throughout its history, it has housed enslaved people and a Federal War Hospital in the latter part of the Civil War commanded by General Custer, and served as the campus for the first area School for the Blind. There isn't a Neill Cochran, instead the home and museum is named for both the Neill and Cochran families, two long-lasting early families in resided in the home. Inside exhibits offer an accurate, almost eerie glimpse into life in early 1900s Austin while the outdoor grounds hosts events as Civil War re-enactors and Victorian ladies, embroidery classes, book talks, venue rentals, and Sunday Fundays on the second Sunday every 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 at 411 E. Fifth St., in Brush Square, a historic area in Austin. The home is the last residence of Susanna Dickinson Hannig (messenger of the Alamo) and Joseph Hannig. The home was restored and became a city museum in 2010. Susanna's first husband, Captain Almaron Dickinson, died during the Alamo siege as Susanna and their young daughter, Angelina, hid inside of the Alamo walls. Susanna's final home in Brush Square serves as a testament to frontier life and many permanent artifacts in the home are in the house for visitors to witness and learn. The museum is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, but its resource and exhibit library is available online.