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Global Glimpses with Museum Travel

Many art museums offer members-only travel programs as a benefit to their donors and as an extension of their missions to expose people to the world of art. One of the draws of traveling with an art museum group is the in-depth knowledge and behind-the-scenes entrees that museum connections afford travelers: entrance into private homes, tours of private collections, access to private galleries.

Having a museum curator or study leader travel with the group turns the world into a living museum. Rather than looking at art on a wall, travelers can watch artists work in their studios. Rather than having a docent lead a museum tour, guests can sit down to lunch with the museum director. Rather than reading about a contemporary art movement in a far-off land, they can experience it firsthand.

Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Santa Barbara, California, isn’t a huge city — it has about 90,000 residents — and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art isn’t a huge museum. But both are immensely impressive when it comes to their cultural offerings.

“Santa Barbara as a whole has a disproportionate offering of cultural opportunities than what you would expect out of such a small city,” said Lisa Hill, manager of travel and special programs for the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA).

And the same is true of the museum’s esteemed members travel program, which was among the first of its kind. The museum launched the program in 1972, making it one of the oldest and largest, which is “pretty neat for a museum of our size,” Hill said.

The museum leads 18 to 20 trips a year, most of which are international. A handful of itineraries — two to four — are domestic trips or even overnight jaunts to Los Angeles. Hill usually works with United States-based tour companies and sometimes with ground operators in the destination country to plan international tours, which are limited to 15 to 22 people. She plans itineraries herself only for domestic excursions.

“There are language barriers and so many cultural nuances,” she said. “It’s really important to have people that understand the culture.”

SBMA groups sometimes get to travel with a museum curator and often get special access to private homes and private collections, access that’s a direct result of connections through museum board members or staff.

In October, Hill led a group of 16 people to Vietnam and Cambodia, a trip that included time both on a ship and at land-based hotels. Museum travelers went to the Cambodia Living Arts Center, where they had a private demonstration with three dancers and the teacher, and attended a living-arts performance by Cambodia Living Arts, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to development through arts and culture.

During a trip to Hawaii a couple of years ago, Hill, who is from the Aloha State, used her connections to have the director of the Honolulu Museum of Art give her 18-person group a private tour of the Shangri La flower show held at the museum every three years. Then the group lunched with the director. Travelers were also able to visit a few private homes where they “saw some of the best private art collections in Hawaii,” Hill said.

In January, Hill will take members to South India, a trip that ties into the museum’s 2016 exhibition “Puja and Piety: Buddhist, Hindu and Jain Art of India.” In February, a member group will travel to Mexico and visit the colonial cities of San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, where travelers will explore Renaissance, Baroque and Moorish architecture.