Museums can take many forms, from memorials to movie sets. But no matter what form they take, they are all dedicated to preserving moments in time for future generations.
These cities around the country have a range of museums, both eclectic and high profile, that make great cultural destinations for travel groups.
Most cities have a museum of natural science, but only Philadelphia has the oldest one in the nation. The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, formerly of Philadelphia, was founded in 1812 and first opened its doors to the public in 1828. Ever since, the academy has been showcasing plants, insects, fish, birds, animals and some of the 17 million fossils in its collection. The academy offers groups behind-the-scenes tours with up-close access to everything from “dinosaur bones to tiny, delicate butterflies,” said Christina Cassidy, tourism communications coordinator for Discover Philadelphia. Visitors can even talk with scientists along the way.
Another famous — or infamous — Philadelphia museum is the Barnes Foundation museum. Albert Barnes amassed what would become one of the largest collections of impressionist, postimpressionist and early modern art in the world; it includes more than 800 paintings valued at $25 billion. Barnes’ collection was once housed in his private home in Merion, where he wished it to stay, but after much controversy — there was even a documentary made about it — the collection was moved to its current location on Museum Mile to make the art more accessible to the public.
“They moved his collection as it was; it’s exactly the way that he left it,” said Crystal Hayes, senior tourism communications manager for Discover Philadelphia, adding, “It’s like they took his home and plopped it down in the museum.”
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology hosts a special event for groups called Dinner and a Mummy that includes a catered dinner, a “mummy talk” and even an opportunity to touch one of the mummies, Hayes said.
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which opened in late June, aims to tell the story of the American civil rights movement while tying that era into current human rights movements that are happening around the globe. In addition to exhibits on segregation in the South and other worldwide human rights issues, the $103 million, 43,000-square-foot center will house a rotating display of Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal writings.
“This will be the venue where you’ll be able to see [King’s] own handwriting,” said Jo Ann Haden-Miller, director of consumer market and director for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Atlanta is also home to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, where the King Center offers “total immersion in the life and legacy of Dr. King,” Haden-Miller said, from his birthplace and boyhood through the civil rights movement to his assassination. At the center, guests can also visit the gravesite of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.
The High Museum of Art will customize tours for groups, Haden-Miller said. Staff at the museum, which has more than 14,000 pieces in its permanent collection, can arrange to have docents lead “curated” and behind-the-scenes group tours that focus on architecture, black history, African-American art — nearly anything a group may be interested in.
The Center for Puppetry Arts is both a performance arts center and “a very active museum” that’s “always a creative energy experience,” Haden-Miller said. The center just wrapped up its fundraising campaign to open a Jim Henson wing that will house the bulk of the Henson family’s collection.