Though the United States is famed for stunning, monolithic museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City or the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., many art enthusiasts often discover the greatest pleasures in visiting galleries from smaller, lesser-known university and college museums that dot the U.S. landscape.
Since the early years of college education, university museums have collected art for the enrichment of their students. There are nearly 680 university galleries that regularly receive generous commissions and continue to build on collections that can rival some of the world’s best public museums. Not only have they become premier spaces for open-minded, experimental exhibitions, but they are also all firmly dedicated to enhancing students’ artistic experiences. The best part of all it that more often than not, admission is usually free. Here are just 10 of the best university art galleries available to art aficionados everywhere.
University and College Art Galleries: Best 10 in the U.S.
R.I.S.D. Museum - Image Credit: fodors.com
1. Rhode Island School of Design Museum - Rhode Island School of Design
Founded in 1877, the RISD Museum is composed of five buildings on the east side of Providence that date from 1893 to 2008, with the latest addition designed by architect Rafael Moneo. There’s an expansive holding of ancient and contemporary art collections featuring approximately 100,000 objects, from Asian art and historic textiles to paintings or sculptures by European masters as well as experimental video works. The museum truly has something for everyone.
RISD is located in Providence, Rhode Island at 224 Benefit St. and is open Tuesdays-Sundays from 10am-5pm. Extended evening hours include the third Thursday of each month (open until 9 pm) as well as Summer Saturdays (June–Labor Day). General admission is $12 for Adults, $10 for Seniors, $3 for Youth, and $5 for college students with valid ID. Children under five are free.
2. Yale University Art Gallery - Yale University
Founded in 1832, the Yale University Art Gallery is the oldest university art museum in the western hemisphere, often setting the standard for what a college art galleries should be. In addition to world-class collections of American decorative art, early Italian painting, and African sculpture, the space offers year-round internships, curatorial opportunities, and educational programs for students. The potential for looking and learning is never ending.
The Yale University Art Gallery is located in New Haven, Connecticut at 1111 Chapel St. and is open Tuesdays-Fridays from 10am-5pm and Saturdays-Sundays from 11am-5pm. Admission is free and open to the public.
3. The Hammer Museum – U.C.L.A.
Founded in 1990 by oil tycoon and philanthropist Armand Hammer, the museum and its Edward Larrabee Barnes–designed building became a part of UCLA in 1992, merging its holdings with those of the university’s Wight Art Gallery, Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, and Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden to create a repository of more than 50,000 works. Highlights include various changing exhibitions of modern art intended not only to awe and inspire, but to bring cultural and political issues to light. In addition to physical collections, the museum also offers programs meant to educate the public on art.
The Hammer Museum is located in Los Angeles, California at 10899 Wilshire Blvd. and is open Tuesdays-Fridays from 11am-8pm and Saturdays-Sundays from 11am-5pm. Admission to all exhibitions and programs is free and open to the public.
4. Williams College Museum Of Art - Williams College
With an emphasis on modern and contemporary works, as well as American art from the late 18th century on, the museum serves as a repository for more than 14,000 pieces, including the world’s largest collection of works by Charles and Maurice Prendergast. It was originally built in 1846 as an octagonal library by Thomas Alexander Tefft and later expanded in the 1980s by architect Charles Moore.
The Williams College Museum Of Art is Williamstown, Massachusetts at 15 Lawrence Hall #2 and is open September to May from 10am-5 pm, Thursdays 10 am to 8 pm and June to August from 10am-5pm, Thursdays 10 am to 8 pm. Admission is free and open to all.
5. Allen Memorial Art Museum – Oberlin College
Founded in 1917 and ranking among the most prestigious art museums in the country, the Allen Memorial is located in a spectacular Renaissance style building designed by architect Cass Glibert. There’s an extensive collection of over 14,000 art works from almost every culture and region of the world and is particularly rich in examples of 17th century Dutch and Flemish artists as well as 19th and 20th century European and American works. The famous Art Rental Program allows students to rent original works of art, decorating dorm rooms with Picassos instead of posters. Original works by Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, and Red Grooms are only a few of the many artists whose art is available through this unique program.
The Allen Memorial Art Museum is located in Oberlin, Ohio at 87 N. Main St. and is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10am-5pm, Sundays from 1pm. Admission is free and open to all.
6. Cantor Arts Center - Stanford University
Founded in 1891, the same year as Stanford University, the Cantor Arts Center boasts 24 galleries and a permanent collection of more than 44,000 pieces, including one of the largest displays of Rodin bronzes outside of Paris. It is housed in a building which combines a historic portion designed by San Francisco firm Percy & Hamilton with a modern wing by Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects).
Cantor Arts Center is located in Stanford, California at 328 Lomita Dr. at Museum Way and is open Wednesdays to Mondays from 11am-5pm, Thursdays 10am-8pm. Admission is free and open to all.
7. Institute of Contemporary Art - University of Pennsylvania
Since 1963, the ICA at the University of Pennsylvania has boldly provided a platform for unknown artists who would later become art world superstars. Names include Andy Warhol, Laurie Anderson, Agnes Martin, and Robert Indiana. Their exhibition spaces are endlessly flexible and inspirational-- as they do not have a permanent collection-- and they boast a bustling schedule of artists' lectures, DJ nights, and community conversations that keep an eye on emerging and international movements.
ICA is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 118 S. 36th St. and is open Wednesdays from 11am-8pm, Thursdays & Fridays 11am-6pm, and weekends from 11am-5pm. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Admission is free and open to all, courtesy of Amanda and Glenn Fuhrman.
8. The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
Founded in 1865 as the Vassar Art Gallery, the teaching museum slash major art repository slash exhibition center is housed in a building by architect Cesar Pelli. Its center collection has grown throughout the years from 3,000 paintings and works on paper at its inception to more than 20,000 works in a variety of mediums. Various highlights include the Hudson River School paintings and Old Master prints.
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is located in Poughkeepsie, New York at 124 Raymond Ave. and is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10am-5pm, Thursdays from 10am-9pm, Sundays from 1pm-5pm. Admission is free and open to the public.
9. Princeton University Art Museum - Princeton University
One of the oldest collecting institutions in the country, Princeton began collecting art long before America was even America. The museum, founded in 1882, now houses over 92,000 works of art that range from antiquity to the contemporary period and concentrate geographically on the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, China, the United States and Latin America. Though their first paintings were destroyed during the American Revolution, they have continuously committed to restoring original works as well as offering innovative ways of teaching art history. Additional museum highlights include holdings of Greek and Roman antiquities, Medieval stained glass, as well as Chinese porcelain.
The Princeton University Museum is located in Princeton, New Jersey at McCormick Hall and is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10am-5pm, Thursdays from 10am-10pm, Sundays from 1pm-5pm. Admission is free and open to the public.
10. Harvard Art Museums – Harvard University
The Ivy League university has not one but three art museums: the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum. Following an ambitious 2014 expansion by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the formerly geographically separate organizations are now all under one roof. The combined collections boast over 250,000 objects, from works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and John Singer Sargent to ancient Chinese jades to the archives of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.
The Harvard Art Museums are located in Cambridge, Massachusetts at 32 Quincy St. and are open daily from 10am-5pm. General admission is $15 for Adults, $13 for Seniors, $10 for Students, and free for Youth under 18. Children under 5 are free. Harvard faculty, students, and staff (plus one guest) are always free as well as residents of the surrounding Cambridge area. Massachusetts residents can receive free admission on Saturdays from 10am–noon.
Visiting Colleges? Check out the Best College and University Museums in the U.S.
This article was written by Pamela Chan and edited by Lexi Perman.