What’s more meta than a brief history of Austin’s history and art museums? Although the pandemic has drastically reduced the capacity of local museums and, in some cases, closed them indefinitely, many of these institutions have turned to offer virtual and online exhibitions, outdoor events, or socially distant gallery walks.
Bullock State History Museum
The Bullock State History Museum is located on 1800 Congress Ave., just blocks north of the Texas State Capitol. The museum is named after the former Lt. Named Governor Bob Bullock, a longtime politician who loved Texas history and enjoyed driving back roads across the state. The museum opened in 2001 and calls itself “The Story of Texas”. The museum includes permanent and temporary exhibits, an IMAX theater, a Texas Spirit Theater, three floors of exhibition space dedicated to the history of Texas (and Austin history), a gift shop, and a coffee shop. There are also a number of distance learning courses available to the public that allow you to take a virtual tour of the museum in real time.
The LBJ Presidential Library & Museum
The library is located on 30 acres on the northeastern edge of the UT campus and opened in May 1971. It is dedicated to the 36th President Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ was born in central Texas on August 27, 1908. He attended Teachers College in San Marcos and taught in Cotulla (near the Texas-Mexico border). LBJ 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 time in history, and the library reflects his tenure. It contains over 45 million paper documents, interactive exhibits (especially the stretch limo he used on his visit to Austin), both permanent and temporary. The museum has been closed indefinitely due to the pandemic, but there is an extensive library of digital resources and virtual exhibits online.
The contemporary Austin – Jones Center
The Contemporary is a world-class art museum with two locations: the Jones Center on Congress Avenue and the Laguna Gloria in West Austin. Contemporary Austin is a combination of outdoor and urban art exhibits from artists from around the world. Courses, special events and lectures are offered at both locations. The Jones Center opened at the 1998 convention as the Jones Center for Contemporary Art. In 2002 it was changed to Arthouse, only to be changed again to Contemporary Austin – Jones Center in 2010. In modern terms, the Jones Center is finally opening “Deborah Roberts: I’m,” perhaps the most anticipated show of the year, on January 23rd. Though the Austin-based artist was forced to postpone her exhibition in September due to the pandemic, residents were spoiled with the installation of Little Man, Little Man by the side of the museum, last 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 end of 35th Street) is a lush 14 acres on Lake Austin with outdoor sculptures dotted around the property. Strolling the property creates a sense of wonder in visitors and is an important social distancing activity. Originally owned by Stephen F. Austin, it was bought in 1914 by Clara Driscoll, a noted philanthropist, who built the landmark home using architectural designs inspired by Italian mansions. The land was donated to the city as a public museum in 1943 and was officially donated to the Laguna Gloria Art Museum in 1961. As with the Jones Center, timed ticket reservations are required to visit Laguna Gloria.
The Blanton Museum of Art
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 leading art museums in the country and features over 18,000 works by world-famous artists. The Blanton is constantly adding to its collection, and next to the art gallery space is Ellsworth Kelly’s fascinating Austin facility. As part of a multi-million dollar overhaul, there will be a shaded canopy (complete with picnic and dining areas) connecting the two buildings. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2022. Reserved, timed tickets are required.
The Neill Cochran House Museum
The Neill-Cochran House Museum is located west of the UT campus at 2310 San Gabriel Street and was built in 1855 in the style of the Greek Revival on what was then 18 hectares of “land”. Throughout its history, it has housed enslaved people and a Federal War Hospital under the command of General Custer during the latter part of the Civil War, and served as the campus for the first school for the blind. There is no Neill Cochran, instead the house and museum are named after both the Neill and Cochran families, two long-lived early families who lived in the house. The indoor exhibits provide an in-depth, almost eerie glimpse into life in Austin in the early 20th century, while the outdoor area hosts free events such as Civil War Re-enactors and Victorian Ladies, Embroidery Classes, Book Lectures, Event Rentals, and Sunday Fundays on the second Sunday of each month Programming. Self-guided tours are available, but guided tours have been temporarily suspended due to social distancing.
Susanna Dickinson Museum
This downtown museum is located at 411 E. Fifth St. in Brush Square, a historic Austin neighborhood. The house is the last residence of Susanna Dickinson Hannig (ambassador of the Alamo) and Joseph Hannig. The house was restored and in 2010 it became a city museum. Susanna’s first husband, Captain Almaron Dickinson, died during the siege of the Alamo when Susanna and her young daughter Angelina were hiding within the Alamo walls. Susanna’s last home in Brush Square is evidence of life on the border, and many permanent artifacts are in the house for visitors to witness and learn. The museum is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, but its resource and exhibition library is available online.