A major draw of living and visiting Houston is its rich arts and culture scene, with an abundance of museums to explore across the city — and plenty that offer free admission. Many are peppered within the aptly-named Museum District, while others can be found on the campuses of esteemed universities, which present countless educational resources for locals. Thanks to complimentary access, lazy afternoons are best spent moseying between them and soaking in the culture of their surrounding areas along the way. From exhibitions showcasing local names to world-renowned talent, and disciplines ranging from painting and sculpture to performance arts and cinema, art is well represented in Houston. Consider this list of museums that always offer free admission for visitors.
Playfully known as the “Garage Mahal,” Houston’s Art Car Museum is located in the historic Heights neighborhood and serves as a dedicated place to enjoy the city’s bountiful collection of art cars. The showroom is a sight to see, with a whimsical stock of automobiles that have been transformed from their standard look to reflect a more vibrant and funky aesthetic. Expect lowriders in glittery hues, old-fashioned sedans fitted with horns and cars with furry exteriors made to resemble cartoon-like animals. Admission is free, but by appointment only, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.
Harmoniously situated against the natural landscape of Menil Park, the Menil Collection is one of the city’s most beloved museums, with free entry from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. The museum’s main building houses permanent collections that spotlight art from Africa to the Pacific Northwest, among other locations, alongside a number of changing exhibits. There is much to explore beyond the walls of the main building, with more exhibitions located inside the Menil Drawing Institute and Cy Twombly Gallery and Richmond Hall, accessible on the same campus. Jim Love’s “Jack,” a towering sculpture mimicking a toy jack, is a popular attraction, holding court outside Bistro Menil, a modern European restaurant located across the street from the main building. Next door to the restaurant, the Menil Collection Bookstore offers plenty of titles to peruse, including tomes that the museum publishes on its exhibitions and a variety of gifts created by Texas artists.
The Best New Restaurants in Texas Bring Barbecue, Thai and Pizza to the Table‘Tis the season for comfort food
The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft is a nonprofit whose mission is to advance education on the art of craft. At its home in the Museum District, a series of events, lectures and educational programs are offered to the public, alongside a number of exhibitions representing a diverse group of artists. In addition, the center boasts an artist-in-residence program, which brings in working artists at varying points in their careers. Admission to the center is free between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, during which visitors may peruse exhibits, but also peek in on resident artists at work in their studios.
For 75 years, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, or CAMH, has served as a vessel for showcasing new regional and international art to Houstonians. The building, a steel structure in the shape of a parallelogram that was designed by architect Gunnar Birkerts in the early ’70s, is home to temporary exhibitions that highlight a variety of works, including sculptures, videos and large-scale installations from modern artists. With a series of educational programs and events consistently available to the public, the museum doubles as a trusted resource for up-and-coming artists. Admission is free from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.
The Blaffer Art Museum is a contemporary museum located on the University of Houston’s main campus that is free to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. on the weekend. Since its inception 50 years ago, the museum has made it a focus to assist in the continued understanding of contemporary art, by way of its exhibitions, educational programming and community outreach. The museum’s robust menu of offerings includes lunchtime gallery talks with local artists and experts, roundtable discussions with art historians and curators, and art-fueled summer workshops geared towards children.
Located in Houston’s Third Ward, a historic African-American neighborhood, Project Row Houses is a sprawling art community that spans five city blocks and encompasses 39 total structures. By way of art houses, a community gallery and new installations throughout the year, the platform aims to highlight local and national artists who ignite conversations about cultural identity and the urban landscape. Project Row Houses also works toward the enrichment of the community and ongoing development of the neighborhood through year-round programming, which includes workshops, fundraisers and special events. Visitors are welcome from noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, and attendance is free, with guests given a walking map of the area as a guide.
The Moody Center for the Arts is located on the Rice University campus and offers free access to all from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The building opened in 2017 with the goal of connecting the Rice community with the Houston public. The 50,000-square-foot building encourages learning and collaborative efforts, boasting an art gallery with three featured exhibits each year; a multimedia gallery for video installations; a maker space with wood, paint and metal shops; a 150-seat studio theater; office spaces for visiting artists; and a cafe.
As an extension of Houston’s Jung Center, an educational institute devoted to the continuing education of the human psyche, the Museum District gallery is a space accessible to all with free entry from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday; and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The gallery spotlights works by local and regional artists, including emerging and established talents, and showcases roughly eight exhibitions per year in addition to a permanent collection by Peter Birkhäuser called “Light From the Darkness.”
This article was featured in the InsideHook Texas newsletter. Sign up now for more from the Lone Star State.