Culture on the Cheap: How to Visit San Antonio Museums for Free This Summer

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COURTESY OF THE WITTE MUSEUM
  • Courtesy of the Witte Museum
Lucky for tourists and locals alike, San Antonio’s diverse cultural landscape can be experienced largely on the cheap. Our sprawling River Walk, UNESCO-designated Spanish Colonial Missions and iconic Alamo are all free to visit, as are unique, urban green spaces like Hardberger Park, Brackenridge Park and the picturesque Japanese Tea Gardens.

And there’s more good news. Wallet-friendly opportunities also abound within the Alamo City’s robust art scene: the First Friday and Second Saturday art walks attract crowds that snake through the artist-run spaces and studios of Southtown and the South Flores-Lone Star corridor. Beloved galleries such as FL!GHT, Sala Diaz, Presa House, Ruiz-Healy Art and many others highlighted in our 2019 City Guide are always free to visit — so are the museum-like spaces of Artpace, the Southwest School of Art and Studio at Ruby City.

And when it comes to museums and institutions that do charge admission, all one needs to do is plan a visit during weekly or monthly free-admission hours. Keep in mind that free general admission may not include access to special or traveling exhibitions.

Blue Star Contemporary
Anchoring the Blue Star Arts Complex since 1986, cavernous Blue Star Contemporary is both the germinating seed and undisputed starting point for First Friday art walks through Southtown. Billed as “the first and longest-running nonprofit venue for contemporary art in San Antonio,” BSC lives up to its mission to “inspire the creative genius in us all” by showcasing emerging and established local, regional and international artists in 20-plus exhibitions each year. A visual representation of the work being developed through the nonprofit’s three-month Berlin Residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, this summer’s “Fünf” unites the four San Antonio artists selected for the residency’s fifth cycle: Amada Miller, Andrei Renteria, Ethel Shipton and Jared Theis. Free on Thursdays from 4-8pm, First Thursdays from 10am-8pm and First Fridays from 10am-9pm, Blue Star Contemporary, 116 Blue Star, (210) 227-6960, bluestarcontemporary.org.



Briscoe Western Art Museum
Just off a tourist-filled section of the River Walk, the stately Briscoe sits in a historic library building outfitted with a modern wing and a stylish Lake Flato pavilion filled with bronze sculptures. Opened in 2013 with a mission to preserve the “art, history and culture of the American West,” the museum boasts an impressive collection that spans five centuries and contains such storied curiosities as Santa Anna’s sword and Pancho Villa’s saddle. Relics aside, the Briscoe seeks to challenge the dusty genre’s conventions with temporary exhibitions like this summer’s touring “Into A New West: Contemporary Art from the Booth Museum.” Free on Tuesdays from 4-9pm, Briscoe Western Art Museum, 210 W. Market St., (210) 299-4499, briscoemuseum.org.

The DoSeum
Looking and feeling like a real-life adaptation of the whimsical world of Dr. Seuss, San Antonio’s high-tech children’s museum sees itself as “a ‘charging station’ to power up kids’ minds” with interactive exhibits and programs that “promote play, invite discovery, spark interest and develop positive attitudes towards learning.” Beyond permanent fixtures like the Big Outdoors, Little Town, Spy Academy, Imagine It and Innovation Station, the STEM-focused museum features themed temporary exhibitions like the recently opened “Going Places,” which comprises 17 areas where youngsters can explore concepts ranging from gravity and design to aerodynamics and energy efficiency while building a virtual car, planning a family trip, navigating a hover disk or controlling a flight simulator. Free on the first Tuesday of the month from 5:30-7:30pm and June 18, July 16 and August 20 from 6:30-8:30pm (space is limited, wristband pickup begins at 4pm), the DoSeum, 2800 Broadway, (210) 212-4453, thedoseum.org.

McNay Art Museum
COURTESY OF THE MCNAY ART MUSEUM
  • Courtesy of the McNay Art Museum
Opened in 1954 in the Spanish Colonial Revival mansion of Ohio-born Marion Koogler McNay, the McNay proudly presents itself as “the first museum of modern art in Texas.” Expanded in 2008 with the addition of the ultra-modern, 45,000-square-foot Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions, the McNay is arguably as well-loved for its photo-ready gardens, lawns, fountain and outdoor sculptures as its permanent collection, which runs the gamut from Post-Impressionist paintings to contemporary Latino prints. Signature and traveling exhibitions, film screenings, lectures, kid-friendly workshops and hyper-casual Second Thursday events with live music and food trucks all add to the draw. The McNay’s recently invigorated mission to “reach new audiences, and speak directly to the backgrounds, cultures, and interests of more San Antonians than ever before” takes shape this summer in a trio of complementary exhibitions, “Andy Warhol: Portraits,” “Transamerica/n: Gender, Identity, Appearance Today” and the UTSA Special Collections collaboration “TransSanAntonian: Examining Trans Identities and Gender Fluidity in the Archives.” Free on Thursdays from 4-9pm, McNay Art Museum, 6000 N. New Braunfels Ave., (210) 824-5368, mcnayart.org.

San Antonio Museum of Art
COURTESY OF THE SAN ANTONIO MUSEUM OF ART
  • Courtesy of the San Antonio Museum of Art
Not unlike the nearby Pearl, the San Antonio Museum of Art worked wonders within the unassuming shell of a former brewery. Once inside the doors of the industrial-chic complex, visitors can quite literally choose their own adventure while navigating galleries containing art and artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and Latin America or contemporary works by the likes of Kara Walker, Frank Stella, Vik Muniz and Texas’ own Dario Robleto, Alex Rubio and Ángel Rodríguez Díaz. Likely to be a summer crowd pleaser, the Arkansas-based Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s touring “Men of Steel, Women of Wonder” assembles paintings, photographs, installations and videos by a diverse assortment of artists examining two power players in the realm of pop culture: Superman and Wonder Woman. Free on Tuesdays from 4-9pm and Sundays from 10am-noon, San Antonio Museum of Art, 200 W. Jones Ave., (210) 978-8100, samuseum.org.

Institute of Texan Cultures
A cultural arm of UTSA, the Institute of Texan Cultures is dedicated to preserving the “music, dance, food, stories and traditions, religion, artisan skills and ways of life” of the myriad cultures who call the Lone Star State home. Although possibly known best for Alamo City favorites such as the Texas Folklife Festival and Asian Festival, the ITC hosts year-round programming that encompasses diverse art exhibitions, youth workshops and living-history presentations. On view this summer are the “visually explosive” solo show “Transcendental Tricentennial: The [he]ART of David Zamora Casas,” the photography and film exhibit “SaddleUP: Texas Ranching and Tradition” and a pair of shows exploring the Filipino experience — “Mabuhay Filipino Texans” and the Smithsonian’s traveling “Singgalot: The Ties That Bind.” Free on the second Sunday of the month from noon-5pm, UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, 801 E. César. E. Chávez Blvd., (210) 458-2300, texancultures.com.

Witte Museum
Recently transformed with a $100 million makeover and still growing into its new digs, the expansive “New Witte” proudly celebrates “everything Texas, and so much more.” In addition to permanent displays showcasing historical artifacts, massive dinosaur replicas, wildlife dioramas and recreations of ancient rock art, the museum organizes special exhibitions like the retro-fabulous “Blast from the Past: Fiesta 1969,” the sprawling showcase “The Art of Texas: 250 Years” and the interactive “Survival: The Exhibition,” which culminates in an Adventure Zone complete with a zip line and ropes course. Free on Tuesdays from 3-8pm, Witte Museum, 3801 Broadway, (210) 357-1900, wittemuseum.org.

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