Thirty-three museums and community organizations in Austin offered free entrance and activities Sunday as part of the 14th annual Austin Museum Day. The Austin Museum Partnership started Museum Day to showcase the city’s cultural offerings, said co-chair Stephanie Jarvis. Jarvis said this year’s event extended the use of trolley cars from the Austin Tour Guide Association to get guests to the museums. She said more cultural organizations that are not traditional museums, including the group Save Austin’s Cemeteries, participated in the event as well.
Jarvis said museums offer so many potential benefits to the public that it becomes difficult to describe their value to society.
“They educate us about the past, but they also, in my opinion, help the general public think about who we are as a society, where we’ve been, where we’re going,” Jarvis said.
The Blanton Museum of Art hosted activities including a football toss game, a collaborative installation made of candy wrappers, button making and two drawing activities. Graduate civil engineering student Ali Abu Yosef said he attended the Blanton for the first time Sunday despite going to UT for several years and being interested in contemporary art.
“It’s really encouraging to go see different museums,” Abu Yosef said. “You can see there’s a lot of crowd around here, which I bet is a good thing for the museums.”
Jennifer Garner, manager of school and family programs at the museum, said the activities were designed to introduce the entire Austin community to the special exhibitions on French drawings and contemporary African artist El Anatsui, which opened Sunday.
“It’s really been a commitment of ours to be able to offer activities that are family-oriented,” Garner said. “We know that there’s a lot of people coming to the museum that may not have been to the Blanton before, so we want to make them feel welcome.”
Garner said the Blanton’s collections of Latin American art, European paintings and international modern art and the special exhibitions help make the museum unique.
“We’re offering a wide range of visual art experiences,” she said. “That is not really something you can get anywhere else in Austin.”
The Harry Ransom Center offered three guided tours for Museum Day. The tours featured exhibits which opened this month on censorship in the United States between the world wars and another on the 1920s Greenwich Village literary culture. Lisa Pulsifer, associate curator for education and public engagement, said the center’s interdisciplinary materials distinguish it from other area museums.
“These are some of the main literary exhibitions being shown in Austin,” Pulsifer said. “A lot of the other museums participating are visual art or music or history museums.”
Tuft’s University graduate Leah Gross, who took a tour of the Ransom Center, said she appreciated museums offering free entrance in a tough economy when many people are carefully budgeting.
“You tend to budget for what you’re already used to doing,” Gross said. “If you’re not necessarily sure if you’re going to enjoy a museum, you might be reluctant to go for the first time because you have to pay.”