If you told me before I had kids that I would see art with them when they are toddlers, I would not have believed you. For me, seeing art was contemplative and reflective, the opposite of a messy, random and chaotic life with little kids. Almost accidentally, we tried it anyway, and it works, it’s just different. We don’t contemplate anything really. We just look around and walk around and sometimes they notice the art and ask questions and other times they don’t. They absorb it somehow, though, just being in and around the art.
The museums on this page are smaller museums, which isn’t hard to find in Austin. These museums also have something outdoors, with trails, gardens or more simple places to walk around. Some of them are traditional museums and others are places that feel like art to me, for one reason or another. Many of them are free and almost all of them are less than $5 per person. Most of them are mostly indoors, so they are good for bad weather days. They are open pretty typical museum-like hours; see the museum web site for details. If you think Kids In a Museum and/or With Scissors! Are you Crazy?, check out that link for suggestions on making it work.
See Art Map
This map shows the different locations so you can find one near you. Click on the red pin for more information.
See Art Descriptions
Austin Art Yards – Always Open
various locations no phone
back to map 05/2010 post See 08/2011 post
Austin Art Yards is most well known for the annual Art Yard Tour each April, when artists open their homes and/or yards with funky folk art to the public. Their web site includes an Always Open page that lists Art Yards you can see year round. I like outdoor art. The art isn’t confined to a limited space and it has to live among the elements, less protected and more part of the real world. I like serious art at the Blanton, but I like to mix it up with folk art made with more everyday materials, living in more everyday settings, creating something that isn’t everyday. You have to drive around from one yard to the other, which can be difficult if your kids are still in car seats and/or they aren’t fond of transitions. But, older kids might like the movement and action that you don’t get in a traditional museum. Remember that most of this art is very near people’s homes, so be especially considerate.
The Austin Museum of Art – Arthouse
700 Congress Ave 459-4830
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If you used to know the Austin Museum of Art at 823 Congress, then this can be confusing. The Austin Museum of Art stopped leasing that space, so there isn’t art there anymore. The Austin Museum of Art owns Laguna Gloria (see next entry) and this is still open. The Austin Museum of Art merged with Arthouse at the Jones Center, so you can see art downtown at the Arthouse location. The Arthouse focuses on modern and contemporary art. Some exhibits may be more kid-friendly than others, you should check out the web site before you go. They also have programs for students to get experience with and be exposed to art, Young Artists for young kids and Club Arthouse for High School kids.
The Austin Museum of Art – Laguna Gloria
3809 W 35th St 458-8191
outdoor/indoor $3 suggested
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Laguna Gloria is beautiful. It is a Mediterranean-style villa that used to be the home of Clara Driscoll, the savior of the Alamo. The historic home is surrounded by twelve acres of landscaped grounds and a mile of Lake Austin shoreline. The home is small, just the right size for young kids seeing art exhibits. Then there is a lot of room to explore outdoors, with sculptures, fountains and walking trails. On Second Saturdays of the month, Laguna Gloria invites kids to join them to make art that is inspired by a current exhibition. Also listed on Growing Up Austin – Do Art – Laguna Gloria.
Austin Nature and Science Center
301 Nature Center Dr 974-3888
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The Austin Nature and Science Center provides nature exhibits, education programs and recreation resources that increase awareness and appreciation of the natural environment. It includes live wildlife exhibits with invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. This is a picture of the Dino Pit, an outdoor paleontology exhibit where kids can search for fossil casts. Artist John Maisano created an eight-foot-tall mammoth rib cage for the children’s entrance to the site as well as nineteen oil paintings depicting the creatures the kids will find as they explore the pit.
Austin Public Library – Literature Live!
various locations 974-9824
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The Austin Public Library Youth Services’ Literature Live! performance troupe inspires the imagination through live theater and puppet shows. The shows are about 30 minutes long in a sometimes semi-dark room, so they are better for kids five and older. It is fun to see the stories in 3D with music and action and the librarian has related books the kids can check out. The troupe performs at different library branches three or four times a week, mostly on weekdays, check out their schedule for details.
Congress Ave & West Martin Luther King Jr Blvd 471-7324
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Blanton Museum wasn’t on this list at first. It is too grown-up and too big. But, they have Family Programs, like kids’ poetry readings and the web page includes tips on visiting the museum with your kids. One suggestions is to pick one floor or one or two rooms for each trip. At first I thought there wasn’t an outdoor part of the museum, which is mostly true, but the museum is on the University of Texas campus. My kids like walking on campus, with its sculptures, fountains, pretty landscaping and a huge clock tower. So it’s pretty easy to combine a little indoor art time with a little outdoor exploring.
Dell Children’s Hospital
4900 Mueller Blvd 324-0000
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The Dell Children’s Hospital wasn’t first on my list either. Who goes to a children’s hospital for fun? Well, maybe no one. But sometimes we end up there anyway, whether we like it or not, right? So, if you are there, and if you and/or your kids have a few moments and a bit of energy to spare, then The Dell Children’s Hospital provides its guests with The Healing Power of Art and Nature, art and sculptures on walls and in reception areas. This includes a colorful, constantly moving and nearly-musical sculpture inside the front entrance and a three-acre, multi-level Healing Garden with a labyrinth, human sundial, reflecting pond and bridge. I like that someone thought to have something beautiful for people when they might need it the most.
Elisabet Ney Museum
304 E 44th St 458-2255
back to map See 11/2010 Post
The Elizabet Ney museum looks like a castle, if you use your imagination. It is a stone, two-story house, with a smaller third story that could be the castle’s lookout. But really, it was Elizabet Ney’s home in the 19th century, when she was a sculptor. It is perfect for kids because the house is interesting in a fun by itself and my kids like sculptures more than other kids of art. There is a set of stairs you can take to a small third floor that has windows overlooking the neighborhood and a secret door. The secret door works well for stories about the castle and which prisoner, villain, princess or beast could be hidden in there. The house is surrounded by a large lawn with a meandering creek, for some outdoor time.
Texas State Capitol
1100 Congress Ave 463-5495
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The Texas State Capital is art, just with larger, heavier materials than usual. The design is based on the architecture of 15th-century Italy and characterized by classical orders, round arches and symmetrical composition. The outside walls are “sunset red” granite, quarried just 50 miles from the site. The rotunda under the dome begs for kids to dance in circles with their arms spread wide, I’m not sure why, but it happens every time for my girls. It can also be fun to watch a session in progress from the balcony or maybe even stop by the office of a favorite legislator.
Umlauf Sculpture Gardens
605 Robert E Lee Rd 445-5582
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Umlauf Sculpture Gardens combines the outdoors and art into one and makes both of them even better. Walk amongst the trees, plans, ponds, fish, wooden bridges and a waterfall, while seeing sculptures are from twentieth-century sculptor Charles Umlauf and a few others. Two interesting notes: 1) The kids can touch the sculptures because they have been covered in a layer of wax. How many times do they hear, “Don’t Touch That!” but now they can. 2) There are many sculptures are of the female nude figure along with a few nude couples in passionate embraces. They are lovely, but just a heads up, in case you have boys of a certain age where this might be a different kind of experience than you were expecting, especially if you combine note #1 and #2.
Zilker Botanical Gardens
2220 Barton Springs Rd 477-8672
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Zilker Botanical Gardens are not a traditional art museum, but the plants, flowers, ponds, paths and bridges are like art materials and their arrangement is beautiful. When my girls put their first foot on the first path, the gardens pull them in and they are drawn to explore the curving paths, small waterfalls and connected ponds. Several historical buildings have been moved to the site, including a blacksmith’s shop and a one-room school house. They are great for interesting conversations and a made-up story or two. Some of the ponds are dry due to the drought, but it is still a beautiful place.