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Find the country’s lesser-known arts destinations

SmarterTravel

When you think about the country’s great arts destinations, what cities come to mind? New York, home to some of the world’s premiere museums, is an obvious choice, while San Francisco and Chicago could arguably be mentioned in the same breath as London, Florence, and Madrid. Okay, but what about Milwaukee? Minneapolis? Perhaps Omaha?

Standing in the shadows of these larger cities, several smaller, lesser-known arts destinations are staking their claim among the country’s finest. Visitors to these mid-size cities will find world-class museums designed by giants of contemporary architecture, as well as free museums and arts-related activities for adults and children alike. So if you’re an art buff who’s seen all the must-sees, or if you want to dodge the crowds at more popular museums, check out these lesser-known arts destinations.

Milwaukee

If the Milwaukee Art Museum was just an empty building, Milwaukee would still make this list. A recent expansion, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and completed in 2001, resulted in a graceful, gleaming white museum on Lake Michigan that resembles a bird in flight, complete with movable, arching wings that open and close daily (weather permitting). The Milwaukee Art Museum boasts a fine and varied collection, including works by Degas, Renoir, Ellsworth Kelly, Mark Rothko, and others. The museum itself is as much a work of art as the paintings and sculptures within it, and the design won countless awards. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for students, and free to children under 12. Entrance to featured exhibitions is an additional $6 and includes general admission (children under 12 are still admitted free).

Two-and-a-half-hours outside of Milwaukee is Taliesin, the former estate of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Taliesin, near Wright’s birthplace in Richland Center, Wisconsin, served as the architect’s workshop, where he formulated ideas and began bringing them to life. Tours of varying length and price are available.

For other arts-related activities in Milwaukee, check out the Milwaukee Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

NEXT >> Minneapolis

Minneapolis

Minneapolis provides a broad selection to choose from in terms of visual art. The Walker Art Center passionately maintains a multidisciplinary focus, with contemporary painting, sculpture, performing arts, film, and photography taking precedence over the types of art you’d expect to find at a large museum. No Rembrandts here, but you will find works from Chuck Close, Claes Oldenberg, and Alberto Giacometti. The Walker recently completed an addition, designed by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, that nearly doubled the museum’s size. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for students/teens (with ID), and free to children under 12. Entrance is free to anyone on Thursdays between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., and on the first Saturday of every month.

You will find work by Rembrandt at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and you won’t have to pay to see it. The MIA is free to all visitors every day, and those who enter will be treated to a broad collection of art, including ancient Roman statues, Japanese prints, American paintings, and modern sculpture.

The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, also free, offers not only a unique collection, but the opportunity to experience the architecture of Frank O. Gehry. The building, instantly recognizable as a Gehry design, is all curves and uneven edges clad in bright, gleaming steel. The collection within focuses on American Modernism—represented by Roy Lichtenstein, Georgia O’Keefe, and James Rosenquist, among others—as well as ceramics and Korean furniture.

Culture Minneapolis is a great place to read up on all Minneapolis has to offer, and a useful resource for getting to and around the city.

NEXT >> Omaha

Omaha

Omaha’s Joslyn Art Center was voted one of the 10 best art museums for kids by Child magazine, and the museum’s numerous kid-friendly programs illustrate why. There are hands-on activities that allow children to connect with their artistic side and understand the process of making art, as well as educational programs that help children view and discuss art.

The museum is no slouch with its collection either, with everything from ancient to twentieth-century art, and a large addition designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Sir Norman Foster for the architecture enthusiasts. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and college students, and $4 for kids ages five through 17. Children under five are admitted free, and everyone gets in for free on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.

The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts supports working artists by awarding residencies (studio space, living quarters, and a stipend) to deserving applicants. The Center hosts exhibitions year-round, and invites the public to talk with the artists-in-residence and view their work every first Thursday of the month. The Center also operates a program called Underground, which enables members of the community to curate and assemble exhibitions of their choosing. For out-of-town visitors, the Bemis Center provides a unique opportunity to watch art being created and see how contemporary art functions within the community.

The Omaha CVB provides a comprehensive listing of all cultural activities and events to be found in the city.

NEXT >>Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh

Andrew Carnegie envisioned a museum filled not with works by old masters, but by the “Old Masters of Tomorrow.” The result of this vision, the Carnegie Museum of Art, became arguably the first modern art museum in the country. The museum’s collection has evolved into an eclectic mix of new and old, and features a sizeable representation of architecture drawings and models along with its painting, sculpture, film and video, and decorative arts selections. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $6 for students and children.

Andy Warhol fans can check out a museum dedicated to one of Pittsburgh’s most famous artists (Mary Cassatt would be the other). The aptly named Andy Warhol Museum holds more than 12,000 works by the artist, including paintings, prints, sculptures, drawings, and 273 preserved Warhol films. There is also a vast archive containing various Warhol “ephemera,” as the museum calls it, which includes press clippings, used art supplies, and Warhol’s Time Capsules. If you’re interested in the archives, it’s best to call ahead, as access to certain areas may require an appointment. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $6 for students and kids ages three to 18. Half-price admission is available Fridays from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.

No visit to Pittsburgh would be complete without a touring one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most recognizable buildings, Fallingwater, located in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. Fallingwater is about a one-and-a-half hour drive from downtown Pittsburgh. Admission is $16 for adults, $10 for children ages six through 12.

The Pittsburgh CVB maintains an online resource of the city’s major arts venues and events.

NEXT >> Kansas City

Kansas City

Kansas City is home to a pair of free art museums, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The Kemper focuses on modern art, using the famous 1913 Armory Show as its starting point. The museum’s collection is rotated throughout the year to provide a new experience for return visitors, and on any given day works by Pollock, de Kooning, David Hockney, and Cy Twombly could be on display.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a Kansas City landmark since the 1930’s, will see the completion of a large addition in 2007. Among the museum’s highlights is Shuttlecocks, a sculpture project by the husband-and-wife duo of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen, displayed in the adjacent Kansas City Sculpture Park. The project was commissioned by the museum, and as the name suggests, is a series of four 19-foot-tall badminton shuttlecocks scattered around the museum grounds. Inside the museum, over 34,000 pieces of art are on display, covering ancient times through the present.

The Arts Council of Kansas City provides information on venues, events, and local arts news.

NEXT >> Buffalo

Buffalo

Buffalo’s rightful claim to fame is the ferocity of its winters, but the city also has a reputation as a thriving contemporary art town, led by a handful of art centers and some big names in modern art. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, one of the country’s oldest public arts institutions, focuses on modern and contemporary art, displaying everything from Gauguin to Joseph Cornell. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, and free to children 13 and under. Admission is free to anyone on Fridays from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center rose from humble beginnings to become a relevant and reputable multidisciplinary art space. Hallwalls was formed by area art students, Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo among them, and began literally as a space cut into the walls of a hall in their studio. Hallwalls now occupies part of a downtown church owned by Ani DiFranco’s record label, Righteous Babe. There is a constantly changing calendar of exhibitions in visual arts, music, film, live performance, and literature. Admission varies by event.

The Buffalo/Niagara area CVB has a great list of local art galleries and museums, and even provides some background on the city’s art history.

When it comes to arts cities, New York, Chicago, and the rest may get most of the attention, but these smaller cities are home to great art collections and some of the most stunning architecture in the United States. Visiting lesser-known arts destinations provides an opportunity to view art you might otherwise have overlooked and immerse yourself in local art communities. Local arts festivals also provide an easy way to get involved with a specific type of art and meet the people behind the creations.

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