Phoenix is home to a diverse assortment of museums with various specialties from Western art to musical instruments. One is a former movie theater, and another sits on the site of a one-time transit station. One has a special hands-on gallery, and another encourages the use of social media photography. They're all worth exploring, whether you're entertaining visitors from out of town or just looking for new cultural adventures close to home.
See also: 10 Best Art Galleries in Metro Phoenix
ASU Art Museum was founded in 1950 on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University. Since 1989, it's been located in the Nelson Fine Arts Center designed by architect Antoine Predock. The museum has 49,700 square feet with five exhibition spaces and more than 12,000 objects in its collection. Areas of emphasis include contemporary art, crafts, prints, Southwest art, and art of the Americas. The museum also has a library, lecture room, print study room, courtyard, museum store, and outdoor sculpture spaces.
Programming includes lectures, family days, festivals, multidisciplinary performance, and more. The museum is open Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (May through August until 5 p.m.) and Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. ASU Art Museum also operates the Ceramics Research Center located in the ASU Art Museum Brickyard, and Combine Studios located in Roosevelt Row. Hours vary for these locations. Admission to all three locations is free. Find more information on the ASU Art Museum website.
The Heard Museum was founded in 1929 and has since undergone expansion and renovation. Today, it comprises 12 galleries, outdoor sculpture gardens, a café, a museum store, an auditorium, a small bookstore, a memorial for veterans, and an outdoor amphitheater. The museum's collection, which includes more than 40,000 objects, is focused on the lives of Native people. Specialty areas include cultural objects of the greater Southwest and contemporary native art from North America. The collection includes approximately 4,000 fine art works representing the American Indian Fine Art Movement from the 20th century to the present. Several objects from the collection can be viewed using the museum's online galleries for baskets, beadwork, fine art, jewelry, pottery, textiles, and more. Information on 22 American Indian communities in Arizona is also available on the museum's website.
Programming includes festivals, lectures, and First Friday events. The museum is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. — as well as 6 to 10 p.m. on First Fridays (except during March). Admission is $18 to $23 for adults, $13.50 to $18.50 for seniors 65 and older, and $7.50 to $12.50 for students with I.D. and children ages 6 to 12, depending on the time of year. Admission is free for children 5 and younger, American Indians, and Heard Museum members. Admission is free during First Friday hours. Fees tied to specific programs (including Culture Pass, First Fridays, Teacher Appreciation Month, and Summer Sundays) and special exhibitions are noted on the museum's website. Find more information on the Heard Museum website.
Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum
Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, which is located on the Mesa Arts Center campus, opened in 2005. The 5,500-square-foot space includes five galleries, including one small space dubbed a project room that's typically used for site-specific and/or new media installations. One gallery is used to exhibit works from the museum's permanent collection, and another features works created by Arizona artists (with a focus on those living in the metro Phoenix area). Exhibitions rotate several times each year.
Programming includes lectures, workshops, live performance, and more. The museum is open Tuesday and Wednesday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. The museum is open until 9 p.m. on the second Friday of the month. Admission is free. Find more information on the Mesa Arts Center website.
Founded in 2010, The Musical Instrument Museum has a collection of more than 15,000 instruments and artifacts from approximately 200 countries and territories. Most displays feature video components showing instruments used in their cultural context, and visitors can hear accompanying audio using wireless headsets. More than 6,000 instruments are on exhibit, most displayed in galleries dedicated to five geographical regions. The museum also has a Mechanical Music Gallery featuring instruments that "play themselves," an Artist Gallery displaying instruments played by well-known musicians such as John Lennon, an Experience Gallery with instruments that guests are free to play, and a gallery used for traveling exhibitions and special engagements. The museum's conservation lab features a huge window that allows visitors to watch instrument maintenance and preservation. The museum also has a music theater, museum café, and museum shop. Outdoor courtyards feature two sculptures by Jean-Claude Lecouflet.
Programming includes concerts by local to international artists, festivals, and theme weekends. The museum is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Museum admission is $20 for adults, $15 for teens 13 to 19, and $10 for children 4 to 12. Admission is free for children 3 and younger. Additional fees may apply to special exhibitions. Find more information on the Musical Instrument Museum website.
The Phoenix Airport Museum, which began in 1987 as the Sky Harbor Art Program, consists of one gallery and several exhibition spaces at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport — in addition to exhibition spaces at Sky Harbor Rental Car Center, Phoenix Deer Valley Airport, and Phoenix Goodyear Airport. Exhibition spaces at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are located in Terminal 2, Terminal 3, Terminal 4, East Economy Parking Garages, and outside the Operations Center. The museum collection includes more than 900 works of contemporary art including portable pieces, site-specific installations, and architectural enhancements. The Phoenix Airport Museum Gallery, which is located in Terminal 4, features rotating exhibition of works in diverse media.
Most exhibited works are located in pre-screening areas, and most of the work located at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are available for public viewing 24 hours a day. The Airport Art Collection was purchased with Phoenix Aviation Department percent-for-art funds administered by the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture. There is no cost for viewing these artworks. Find more information on the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport website.
The Phoenix Art Museum opened in 1959 and has since undergone expansion and renovation. The museum has presented more than 400 exhibitions and its collection includes more than 18,000 works in the following categories: American, Asian, contemporary, European, fashion, Latin American, modern, photography, and Western American. Many works in the Phoenix Art Museum collection can be viewed using an online gallery available through the museum's website. In some spaces, signage indicates that it's fine to take photographs to share via social media (suggested hashtags are often noted). The Contemporary Forum presents annual exhibitions of works by local artists selected to receive awards and grants. The museum has several galleries located on three levels, an auditorium, sculpture garden, restaurant, and museum shop.
Programming includes art-making, family events, live performance, films, festivals, lectures, artist talks, and more. The museum is open Wednesday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Museum admission is $15 for adults, $12 seniors 65 and older, $10 for students with I.D., and $6 children ages 6 to 17. Admission is free for members and children 5 and younger. Special exhibitions may require additional fees. Voluntary donation times, during which admission to general exhibitions is free, take place Wednesday from 3 to 9 p.m. and First Friday from 6 to 10 p.m. Find more information on the Phoenix Art Museum website.
The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), which opened in 1999, was transformed from United Artists Theatre into a museum through design work by architect Will Bruder. The museum specializes in contemporary and modern art, architecture, and design. Key architectural elements include a glass scrim wall designed by James Carpenter Design Associates and a Skyspace by James Turrell. The museum features four galleries, and one multi-use gallery space called SMoCA Lounge, for a total of 18,500 square feet of exhibition space. SMoCA presents nine to 12 exhibitions each year, and has approximately 2,000 works in its permanent collection. The museum's Young@Art gallery, which is located in the adjacent Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, presents several exhibitions of youth artwork each year.
Programming includes lectures, films, live performance, an annual tour of modern homes, an architecture and art series, artist talks, and more. The museum is open Tuesday and Wednesday from noon to 5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from noon to 9 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for students. Admission is free for members and youth 15 and younger. Admission is free for everyone on Thursday and after 5 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday. Find more information on the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art website.
Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West, which opened in 2015, highlights the art, history and stories of 19 states including Arizona through rotating exhibitions of works loaned by artists, collectors, museums, and other cultural organizations. The 43,000 square foot museum was designed by Studio MA, which is based in Phoenix and Clifton, New Jersey. In addition to several galleries, the museum has a sculpture courtyard, theater/auditorium, museum shop, and Heritage Hall featuring photographs and biographical information on historical and contemporary individuals who have made significant contributions to the West. One gallery includes a section replicating an Old West main street sporting saloon, trading post, and such. A large-scale mural depicting an Old West scene complete with campfire and covered wagon gives visitors a charming backdrop for taking souvenir photos.
Programming includes lectures, multimedia presentations, and more. The museum is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $13 for adults, $11 for 65-and-over seniors and active military, and $8 for students with I.D. and children 6 to 17. Admission is free for members and children 5 and younger. Find more information on the Western Spirit: Scottsdale Museum of the West website.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
These museums offer various education and outreach programs. Most have holiday closures which are noted on their websites, and many offer individual and/or group tours. Check with museums before visiting for complete details.
Editor's note: This post has been edited from its original version.