5 Museums Worth Visiting in the Bronx

In the 1950s, artists flocked to Greenwich Village. Later they went to SoHo and Chelsea. And when Manhattan got too expensive, artists went to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Today, New York's art scene is burgeoning in the Bronx with galleries popping up in the South Bronx and the newly named "Piano District." But art in the Bronx is nothing new as the borough has long been home to world class art institutions and cultural centers. Consider visiting one of these 5 unusual cultural institutions that bring art, nature and history together in surprising places.

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New York Botanical Garden

CHIHULY exhibition at NYBG
New York Botanical Garden

Though exhibiting art is not its primary mission, the New York Botanical Garden hosts a blockbuster art show every year. Summer 2017 brings CHIHULY, a major retrospective of the glass artists work that is receiving both critical and popular praise and looks to be the must-do event in New York City this summer.

World-renowned artist Dale Chihuly has more than 20 installations on on view within NYBG’s gardens and buildings. The show's run spanning from spring through fall offers visitors a chance to see the works several times in entirely different settings.

NYBG is well known for their spectacular schedule of special events. CHIHULY Nights will allow visitors to see the works at sunset and then illuminated at night. There are also films, poetry, jazz performances and art programs for kids.

Next summer look forward to Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai‘i, a major exhibition exploring the O'Keeffe's time in the Hawaiian Islands in 1939 when she was commissioned by Dole to paint pineapples.

Insider's Tip: If you're taking public transportation, skip the subway and take Metro North's Harlem line to the New York Botanical Garden stop. It's just 20 minutes from Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan. 

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Bronx Museum of the Arts

Bronx Museum of the Arts
Bronx Museum of the Arts

The Bronx Museum of the Arts is devoted to contemporary art exhibitions and education programs with a unique focus on diverse audiences. As part of their mission, there is universal free admission policy so that everyone and anyone feels welcomed there. This little-known museum might not have blockbuster exhibitions that attract huge crowds, but it is a strong contender for the most progressive and mission focused museum in New York City.

Originally the museum got its start in the public rotunda of the Bronx County Courthouse located on the Grand Concourse. In 1982, it moved into a former synagogue purchased and donated by the City of New York.

In the 1990s, the museum began to raise funds for a larger building with facilities suitable to an ambitious program of family and community programs.  it began an ambitious capital project to enhance its facility. The $19 million space designed by Miami-based architects Arquitectonica opened in October 2006. The museum now has a major gallery/programming space and an outdoor terrace. In keeping with its original envisioned, an entire floor is dedicated to education programs and classrooms. A robust schedule of programs from children and teens is always available. 

Exhibitions change often and include painting, drawing, sculpture and site-specific installations by emerging artists from diverse communities. 

Insider's Tip: The Museum also offers walking tours of the neighborhood including special talks on the historic Grand Concourse. Check their calendar as well as Eventbrite for a upcoming walking tours. 

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Hall of Fame for Great Americans

Bronx Community College
Public Domain

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans at Bronx Community College is a little known treasure hidden that few people know about. It was the very first "Hall of Fame" and was founded in 1900 as part of the Gould Memorial Library at what was once New York University (NYU). 

The Hall of Fame is set inside a 630-foot open-air Colonnade overlooking Northern Manhattan. (When it opened, the view would have been over countryside.) 98 bronze busts line the Colonnade made by distinguished American sculptors including Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial; James Earl Fraser, who created the sculpture of “Justice” and “Law” for the U.S. Supreme Court, and Frederick MacMonnies, who worked on the Washington Arch.

When it was built, this was a revolutionary exhibition space to contemplate authors, educators, architects, inventors, military leaders, judges, theologians, philanthropists, humanitarians, scientists, statesmen, artists, musicians, actors, and explorers all in one space. In the early 1900s, the Hall of Fame was known around the United States and to have your bust included was considered a very big deal. Today it is a nearly forgotten picture of the past.

Only students of Bronx Community College who are taking breaks between classes know about the Hall of Fame as well as the the Gould Library. Designed by Stanford White of Mead, McKim and White, the building modeled on the Pantheon in Rome is considered one of his masterworks. Inside the soaring copper dome is a marble rotunda surrounded by library stacks, no longer in use. NYU abandoned the building in the 1970s when it was then taken over by CUNY. Currently a preservation group is trying to raise funds and find a new purpose for the grand space. 

The Hall of Fame is open to the public for self-guided tours daily, between the hours of 10:00am and 5:00pm and guided tours by appointment only. Two weeks advance notice is suggested. Admission is free for self-guided tours, but a $2.00 donation per person is encouraged. Contact Therese LeMelle at 718-289-5160 to make an appointment.

Insider's Tip: Walk across the newly opened High Bridge, the oldest bridge in Manhattan which was opened in 1848 as part of the Croton Aqueduct. After being closed for over 40 years, it reopened to the public in 2015. A walk across the High Bridge paired with a visit to the Hall of Fame makes for a truly Gilded Age New York experience. 

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Wave Hill

Overlooking the Hudson from Wave Hill
Wave Hill

Those who know and love Wave Hill may be a little reluctant to let you in on their secret hiding place. A "public garden and cultural center", Wave Hill is a true respite from the hustle and bustle of New York City, overlooking the Hudson River.

You may recognize the 28 acres of gardens and vistas from movies and television shows. (Most recently an entire episode of Showtime's Billions was shot there.) Inside the rooms of the former estate are galleries where emerging artists are given exhibition space and curated shows rotate in and out. Wave Hill is curated as much to inspire new creative ideas as it is a place to exhibit contemporary art. 

Make a day of out of your visit to Wave Hill. Bring lunch to picnic on the grounds or eat at their excellent farm-to-table café. Visitors traveling to Wave Hill by car often like to pair their visit with a stop at the Met Cloisters, just over the Henry Hudson Bridge in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood. 

Wave Hill offers a unique opportunity for artists to create installations in their Sunroom Project Space. And from January to March, the galleries are turned over to artists to use as studios for six-week sessions. Artists get to share their practice with visitors through participatory workshops which enliven a winter visit to Wave Hill.

Insider's Tip: It's not so easy to get to Wave Hill by public transportation. The best way is to take Metro North's Hudson line to the Riverdale station. A free Wave Hill shuttle meets northbound trains at 9:50am, 10:50am, 11:50am, 12:50pm, 1:50pm, 2:50pm and 3:50pm. Return shuttles for southbound trains leave Wave Hill’s front gate at 20 minutes past the hour, from 12:20pm through 5:20pm.

Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Bronx Culture Trolley

Think of the Bronx Culture Trolley as a moving arts venue that helps tourists discover the places where artists are currently working and showing their art in the Bronx. The stops change to include both galleries as well as museums so check the calendar which changes monthly. The best part is that the trolley is entirely free!

Stops include:

The trolley begins its route at Hostos Community College at 450 Grand Concourse near 149th Street in the Bronx. Take the 2, 4 & 5 trains or Bx1, Bx19 buses to Grand Concourse and 149 Street. 

For more information or group reservations call 718-931-9500 extension 33 or e-mail tholmes@bronxarts.org.

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