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Planning a great arts getaway

A few years back, I decided to take a day trip to New York from my then-home city of Washington, D.C., specifically to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). I woke up early on a Saturday morning, got to the bus station by eight, and was in the city by noon. I headed straight for the museum, bought my admission ticket, and went up to the nearest information desk.

“What floor is ‘Starry Night’ on?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, miss,” the clerk answered. “‘Starry Night’ is in Atlanta at the moment. It was loaned for the Van Gogh exhibit they’re currently running.”

Dejected, I still explored the rest of the museum’s fine collection, but made an important mental note for future trips centered around an exhibit or event: Always check in advance—whether it’s inquiring about ticket availability, visiting hours, or if the exhibit is really there—to make sure you can experience the trip the way you had hoped. As one who frequently travels for arts and culture getaways, it’s a rule of thumb that’s served me well.

Planning your arts getaway

If you know there’s an exhibit, concert, or other arts event you’d like to travel to see, first determine demand. Some exhibits, especially visiting or limited-time ones, often have increased attendance at the beginning or end of their display period, or sometimes even their entire run.

For example, the Philadelphia Museum of Art recently hosted a Salvador Dali exhibit in early 2005, to blockbuster sales and visits. Approximately 85 percent of all attendees were from out of town, and the museum extended the exhibit’s run and visitation hours to accommodate demand. And in response to these efforts, nearly all the ticket capacity was sold, including a total sell-out for the exhibit’s last 10 days.

Allison Nadelhaft of Silver Spring, Maryland, attempted to get tickets to the Dali exhibit over Memorial Day weekend, but was thwarted. “When I called, the [museum staff] said that the exhibit had been sold out nearly from the moment it was announced. We didn’t bother with a waiting list, but she did say that occasionally people were selling tickets outside the museum or we could check on eBay. Certainly, the moral of the story is make reservations as early as possible, particularly for holiday weekends in the spring and summer when people are coming out of their cocoons.”

Call to see if the venue recommends you purchase tickets in advance, if the exhibit is sold out, or if there are any other pertinent details you should know, such as specific operating hours, closed days, or if tickets are timed-entry only. This last point is increasingly important if you only have a limited amount of time in the area you’re visiting, as you won’t want to spend the bulk of your trip waiting in line.

Additionally, if you’re planning on spending the night, check to see if any hotels are offering packages bundling accommodations and event tickets together. Many times these promotions can offer a good deal, and additional value with “VIP status” for the event tickets, enabling you to jump the line on arrival, get a free headset for your tour, an exhibit souvenir, or other amenity. Be sure to compare package rates versus the cost of purchasing hotel and tickets separately, though, to determine if you’re getting the best deal.

Finally, when planning an arts getaway, determine the true value of the trip to you. I once again made a day trip to New York to see the Einstein exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. While the trip was fun and the exhibit superb, if I had done my research I would have learned the exhibit was coming to my home city of Boston, at the Museum of Science, just a few months later. Had I done a little more investigative work, I would have used my time in New York to explore something else.

Upcoming arts getaways

Many museums in major cities partner with local CVBs to provide getaway packages including accommodations and event/exhibit tickets. Here are just a few offerings at major arts institutions around the country.

  • The Art Institute of Chicago has partnered with 10 area hotels to offer packages including accommodations and entry passes. Some hotels provide additional extras, such as breakfast, valet parking, or fitness center passes. Rates range from $119 to $227 per night, varying by hotel, included amenities, and availability.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has packages with 15 hotels for both the museum’s special and permanent collections. Available extras include breakfast, luxury car service to the museum, and late check-out. Per-night rates start at $152 and can go up to $525, depending on the property.
  • New York’s MOMA currently works with 13 city hotels to provide special per-night rates. Prices will vary by hotel.
  • The Philadelphia Museum of Art is offering a Wyeth Exhibition Hotel Package, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation, through July 16. Rates range from $159 to $500 per night and include accommodations, two VIP tickets to the exhibit, and other amenities varying by hotel.
  • San Francisco’s MOMA has partnered with the Hotel Rex to offer a package with accommodations, two cocktails at check-in, daily continental breakfast for two, and two VIP tickets to the museum’s earthquake exhibit. Rates vary by travel dates; this offer can be requested through April 30.

When making reservations for an arts getaway, it’s a good rule to plan early or wait for the last minute, recommends Penny Brown, deputy director for the Chicago Office of Tourism. The city recently wrapped up its Winter Delights program which featured arts and culture events throughout January and February. “Theater was very popular, as was ballroom dancing,” she notes. Upcoming events that are expected to draw crowds include the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum, the Tall Ships along the Chicago River, and an Andy Warhol exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. If you hear a lot of buzz about an upcoming event, exhibit, or show, it’s a good idea to book early to ensure you’ll get to attend.

To check other exhibits and upcoming shows at a museum that interests you, see the listings on the Art Museum Network or And remember, before you book your travel plans, call to make sure the exhibit is not yet sold out—just in case.

Offbeat arts destinations

“Travelers should not forget the off-the-beaten track arts scene,” recommends Caroline Bean, media relations manager for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. If you find an exhibit or concert is sold out, or if you just want to check out some offbeat arts and culture, consider these following places.

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