Tennessee Museums and Galleries
National Civil Rights Museum
450 Mulberry St., Memphis
The National Civil Rights Museum is fresh off a $27 million renovation (completed in 2014) that updated its capacity to provide interactive exhibitions, including a treasure trove of video footage. The museum itself is located at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, with King’s room preserved as it was the morning he left it, down to the day’s newspaper. It’s a beautiful, well-considered, incredibly important, truly moving experience to see it in person.
Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis
Memphis has a miles-long list of museums and venues where tourists can learn about the city’s rich music culture and history, but if you’re only in town for the weekend, opt for the classic trifecta of Graceland, Sun Studio, and the Rock ‘n Soul museum (free shuttles between the three make it blessedly easy). Start with Sun Studio, which is right near downtown, and offers tours through the building where everyone from BB King and James Cotton to Johnny Cash and Elvis recorded albums. Next, head to the Rock ‘n Soul Museum, just down the street, which is actually a creation of the Smithsonian. They have a huge collection of artifacts and really well-executed storytelling, so it’s probably the best place to learn about Memphis’s musical history from start to finish. End the day with the epic kitschy-ness of Graceland, which has tours all day until 4pm—two hours is plenty of time to get the gist of the place, and most people recommend visiting just before close, when the crowds start to dwindle.
Cheekwood Estate & Gardens
1200 Forrest Park Dr., Belle Meade
While Cheekwood has plenty to appeal to all ages, it’s great for little ones. The estate hosts Tuesdays for Tots year-round, and activities change weekly. It's a wonderful opportunity for little ones to roll up their sleeves and experiment with glue, markers, glitter, and paint. During June and July, Cheekwood offers summer camp to explore the gardens and make their own little masterpieces.
Frist Art Museum
919 Broadway, Downtown
The Frist has an entire gallery—the Martin ArtQuest Gallery—devoted to art activities where children can come by every day between 10 and 5:30 and on Sunday starting at 1 p.m. There are thirty decked-out stations set up for kids to experiment with different media including drawing, sculpting, printmaking, and even filmmaking with toy dinosaurs, plastic animals, and big toy spiders. For everyone else, there’s an encyclopedic lineup of rotating exhibitions from all over the world, as well as the recently renovated Martin ArtQuest Gallery, with interactive artmaking stations, some of which are inspired by the museum’s current exhibitions. Children (and adults) can experiment with different media including painting, printmaking, and animation. Bonus: Children under eighteen can visit for free.
The Carl Von Vechten Gallery at Fisk University
1000 17th Ave. N., Fang
This university gallery is very much worth a visit. Every two years, it exhibits photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s personal collection (Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso), as well as a permanent collection that spans three centuries. You’ll see works from masters like Alexander Calder, Diego Rivera, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Aaron Douglas.
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