1,500 museums to visit for free on Museum Day

Key Points
  • Sept. 21 will be Smithsonian Magazine's 15th annual Museum Day. 
  • More than 1,500 museums and cultural institutions will offer free admission to those who download a ticket.
  • Only one ticket will be issued per email address, but each ticket is good for admission for two people.
The Lightner Museum
Courtesy: Lightner Museum

If you love art, culture, history, science or live music then grab a pen and circle Saturday, Sept. 21 on your calendar.

That's the day more than 1,500 museums and cultural institutions around the country will celebrate Smithsonian Magazine's 15th annual Museum Day with free admission to anyone who downloads a special ticket.

And it's not just museums.

In the spirit of the Smithsonian Institution, which offers free admission to its museums, galleries and zoo year-round, many science centers, aquariums, zoos and gardens will be offering free admission on Museum Day as well.

The free nationwide event presents a great opportunity to stop in and revisit a favorite exhibit at a local cultural institution or take a chance on taking the family to a museum in a town you're visiting without worrying about all the admission fees.

"We hope Smithsonian Magazine's Museum Day helps people discover more museums across the U.S. and become involved in our cultural treasures," said Natanya Khashan, director of communications and marketing for the American Alliance of Museums.

In 2018, over 450,000 tickets were downloaded for Museum Day. That represents an estimated 1.2 million free admissions, as each ticket is good for two people. It seems like many ticket holders sought out new adventures: 64% of Museum Day attendees in 2018 used their free passes to visit a specific museum for the first time.

And while raising visibility for museums is always a good thing, "the annual event is about more than just getting visitors through museum doors," said Amy Wilkins, chief revenue officer at Smithsonian Media, "it represents a national commitment to access, equity and inclusion and helps to empower and advance the hopes and ambitions of the public. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?"

This year, Museum Day is celebrating the Smithsonian Year of Music, with many participating museums offering special music-themed programming.

Violano Virtuoso
Courtesy: Lightner Museum

The Lightner Museum in Saint Augustine, Florida, will host a museum-themed scavenger hunt in its galleries and demonstrate the electric self-playing violin, the Gem Roller Organ and many other early mechanical musical instruments in its collection. 

The Armenian Museum of America in Watertown, Massachusetts will have live Armenian music in the galleries. 

In Missoula, the Montana Natural History Center will offer demonstrations and experiments to show and explain how different animals hear. 

In North Carolina, a high school rock orchestra will play a selection of train-related songs at the Wilmington Railroad Museum. And in Mumford, New York, the Genesee Country Village & Museum, the state's largest living history museum, will be celebrating early shape-note music with a shape-note sing open to all.

Many all-music-all-the-time museums are participating as well.

Guitar sculpture by Trimpin at MoPop
Source: MoPop

Museum Day visitors to MoPOP in Seattle will have full access to galleries and exhibits dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and more.

Music fans will also get full access to the music history offered at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles; the Birthplace of Country Music museum in Bristol, Virginia; and in Memphis, to the Blues Hall of Fame, the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, among others.

And in Kansas City, Missouri, the American Jazz Museum will host a jazz storytelling session that explores the sounds and styles of jazz and present a screening of "Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary."

American Jazz Exhibit at the American Jazz Museum.
Source: American Jazz Museum

Why go to a museum to learn about music? Country music historian Don Cusic, said visitors can learn about the people who make the music, about how music is made and how music becomes a soundtrack for our lives.

"Our favorite music steals our heart. Going to a museum dedicated to our favorite music is like going on a date with our true love," said Cusic, who was a consultant on the new Ken Burns documentary, "Country Music."

The full list of museums participating in the event can be found here and Museum Day tickets can be downloaded here. Only one ticket will be issued per email address, but each ticket is good for admission for two people. So, if you buddy up, it can be a free museum-filled day.

Memphis Rock & Soul Museum
Source: Memphis Rock & Soul Museum