Museums in metro Phoenix are showing a fascinating array of exhibits, and several are offering free admission for Smithsonian Museum Day on Saturday, September 18. Just hop on the event website ahead of time to request a free ticket to the participating museum of your choice, and make sure you review mask and vaccine policies before you head out.
Here’s a look at the exhibition lineup at participating museums in the area, where you’ll see works of art inspired by social justice movements, local history, sports, and more. Pro tip: Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum always has free admission, and additional Mesa museums will have free admission on I Love Mesa Day, which is Saturday, September 25. Admission is always free at ASU Art Museum in Tempe.
If you’re feeling inspired to visit more museums, you’ll be happy to know that several local museums offer free or voluntary admission for particular days and hours. That list includes Heard Museum and Phoenix Art Museum, among others. Whenever you visit, take along your holiday shopping list, because several metro Phoenix museums have impressive gift shops.
Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum2017 North Greenfield Road, Mesa
You can explore more than 100 years of military aviation at the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum, where Museum Day hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Expect to see numerous military aircraft, artifacts from various military engagements, as well as an aircraft maintenance and restoration hangar, where visitors can observe current work in progress.
Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park1300 North College Avenue, Tempe
You can see a couple of exhibitions at Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park, where Museum Day hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The museum is currently showing “Unframed: A Photo Journey Through Navajo and Hopi Nations, 1977-1978" featuring photographs by Katharine L. McKenna, as well as “Still Marching: From Suffragette to #MeToo,” which explores social change through women’s collective action. The center is also home to an exhibition of Arizona history makers.
Cave Creek Museum6140 East Skyline Drive, Cave Creek
Cave Creek Museum currently has several exhibits on view. The “Desert Crusader” exhibit highlights the life and work of artist, environmentalist, and writer Geoffrey Platts. The “Meal of Rocks” exhibit (on loan from the Arizona Mining, Mineral, and Natural Resources Museum) gives geography a gastronomical twist. The museum is also showing models and dioramas related to Cave Creek history, a selection of works from the city’s collection, and archeological artifacts. Museum Day hours are 1 to 4:30 p.m.
Chandler Museum300 South Chandler Village Drive, Chandler
Head to Chandler Museum to see “September 11, 2001: The Day That Changed the World,” an educational exhibit with 14 posters that address the historic day with a focus on the personal stories of survivors and witnesses. The museum is also showing “Bigger than Boxing: Zora Folley and the 1967 Heavyweight Title” and “Black and White in Black and White: Images of Dignity, Hope, and Diversity in America,” which features dozens of large-scale photographs by John Johnson. Museum Day hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mesa Historical Museum2345 North Horne, Mesa
Mesa Historical Museum recently opened an exhibition titled “Diversity in Mesa.” While you’re there, you can also see exhibits about the city’s history, founding families, and early schools. The museum is also showing “Play Ball: The Arizona Spring Training Experience,” which includes artifacts related to the history of this local tradition, as well as the replica of an adobe schoolhouse. Museum Day hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art7374 East Second Street, Scottsdale
Tickets for Museum Day at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art have already sold out, but you'll have other opportunities to see works by a wide variety of local artists in the new “Forever Becoming: Young Phoenix Artists” exhibit and Jacob A. Meders’ installation titled “And It’s Built on the Sacred." The museum recently opened “Mimi O Chun: It’s all cake,” and is also showing “Voice-Over: Zineb Sedira.” You need to reserve tickets in advance for pay-what-you-wish admission on Thursdays and every second Saturday of the month.
Tempe History Museum809 East Southern Avenue, Tempe
Tempe History Museum is showing two exhibitions focused on video game culture, and also has a robust lineup of artifacts related to historical and contemporary Tempe. Current exhibits include "Video Invaders" and "Two Players, Two Quarters: Such and Champ Style." The latter features works by a local father and son whose work is also on view in several murals around metro Phoenix. Museum Day hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West3830 North Marshall Way, Scottsdale
You’ll find numerous exhibitions on view at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, where Museum Day hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The current lineup includes “Courage & Crossroads: A Visual Journey through the American West” and “Photographs by Barry Goldwater: Selections from the Arizona Highways Collection.” Additional exhibitions highlight film, bronze statues, moon exploration, and more.
Editor's note: Learn more about Smithsonian Museum Day on the event website.