Checking out the Best Museum in the US

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As much as it pains me to admit this, I’ve been to art museums all over the world, and checking out the main art museum in a new city is usually one of the first things on my list. Alas, I lived in Lawrence, KS for four years in college and never made it to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, despite it being both free and only 45 minutes away. I must have been busy doing other thing. Oh well, I finally remedied this mistake.

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According to their website, they are ranked as the best US Museum on Yelp, which I can totally get behind. The beautiful and fun sculpture garden alone are worth the visit.

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If you’re going to boast you’re the best museum in the USA, you have to bring it. Some the factors that make the Nelson-Atkins such a pleasure to visit:

  • free admission
  • the Shuttlecocks! (sculpture garden)
  • lively atmosphere with engaged visitors
  • free daily tours
  • parking garage underneath for easy access ($8)
  • encourages photography and social media sharing
  • large permanent collection (35K+)
  • easy layout for navigating
  • gorgeous architecture
  • late hours 2 days a week
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Many American museums have as extensive (or larger) collections, but I haven’t been in one that cared as much about enhancing visitor’s experience. For a free museum, they go above and beyond, and I felt more catered to than I have in much more famous institutions where you can pay nearly twenty dollars or more.

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None of the at would matter though, if the art wasn’t up to snuff. The collection is fantastic, covering pieces from all of the traditional cultures and movements that would be expected in a national caliber art institution. Their photography wing, however, seemed uniquely exceptional and moving.

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I mentioned when writing about my visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Art that I’ve been into Native American and Asian art lately. The collection in Kansas City was inspirational.

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When I posted my July review, both my most popular photo from last month and the one that was my personal favorite ended up being from my afternoon at the Nelson-Atkins. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When a museum actively encourages sharing your experience on social media and is full of lively visitors, that will make for some good photos. Art museums can sometimes be a dud photography-wise, but delighted people genuinely enjoying their visit can create special moments.

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This was one of three great museums I visited in July that were free (the other two being Minneapolis and St. Louis). I whole-heartedly endorse this. It changed the makeup of the visitors and I saw groups of teens in both hanging out and enjoying the artwork. Inspiring. When I was in London, I loved that the museums there were also free.

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What are your recommendations for great American art museums? Share below!

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