If you go to Arkansas’s most prominent museums expecting to find regal paintings and masterly sculptures by esteemed artists, you won’t be disappointed. That said, the cultural institutions throughout our state recognize that an equal emphasis on history, experimentation and participatory exploration can widen art’s appeal, deepen the visitor’s learning experience and ensure that no one and no subject gets left out of the narrative.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
600 Museum Way, Bentonville
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which opened in 2011, is the kind of exorbitantly well-funded juggernaut whose permanent collection is so studded with name-drop-worthy classics that it doesn’t really need to put much effort into its temporary goings-on, and yet, the rest of the year holds much to get excited about up in Bentonville. Top of the list is the world premiere of a new show (Sept. 16 to Jan. 29, 2024) from Annie Leibovitz — one of the most well-known living photographers — whose intimate celebrity portraits for Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue transformed how the public understands fame. Also upcoming at Crystal Bridges is a site-specific installation (June 24 to April 22, 2024) from Marie Bannerot McInerney that employs light, silk and concrete to interact with the ancient legend of Orpheus and Eurydice; a short-term performance art piece that involves costumed singers spontaneously approaching random museumgoers and serenading them with a song by Franz Schubert (Sept. 9-29); and a display of new acquisitions by Toshiko Takaezu and Lenore Tawney, two friends whose work in their respective fields of ceramics and fiber helped pave the way for craft to be recognized as fine art (Oct. 14 to March 25, 2024).
507 SE E St., Bentonville
Since its opening in 2020, the Momentary has functioned as an art space that one might affectionately call Crystal Bridges’ slightly weirder cousin. In addition to sponsoring another iteration of FORMAT Festival (which this year will bring LCD Soundsystem, Alanis Morissette, Leon Bridges and much more to a nearby airstrip) on the weekend of Sept. 22, you should be on the lookout for concerts by Brothers Osborne (July 15), Rina Sawayama (Oct. 6) and Wu-Tang Clan (Oct. 28); a queer film festival presented in partnership with NWA Equality that will bring movies like “The Birdcage,” “Paris Is Burning” and “How to Survive a Plague” to the big screen (June 3); and an indoor/outdoor procession of dance performances choreographed by Matty Davis and scattered across the galleries and grounds (Aug. 4-6). Longer-term exhibitions by Firelei Báez, Yvette Mayorga and Will Rawls (in the form of a large-scale passageway sculpture that you can literally walk through; intentionally gaudy, pink-frosted paintings; and a glitchy stop-motion video installation) have been at the Momentary for a while now, but will stay up until October.
Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts
501 E. Ninth St., Little Rock
If you haven’t yet visited “Together” — the impressive, community-themed Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts exhibition chock full of work that’s large in both size and heart — in the month and some change that it’s been open, make sure to catch it before it leaves on Sep. 10. Beyond what’s currently showing, however, you’ve got a lot to look forward to in the way of art, events and programming on the horizon. There’s Delta Voices (July 13), a one-off happening that will unite curators from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Philbrook Museum of Art and the AMFA for a discussion about the Mid-South region. Then, starting Aug. 29, an 11-minute protest film by Rhea Storr will play in the galleries. In the fall, Filmland (Oct. 4-8) — the Arkansas Cinema Society-led festival known for screening award-winning movies and facilitating brushes with famous actors and influential directors — will be held at the new building for the first time. Plus, the AMFA just announced an inaugural concert series with shows from the Secret Sisters (Nov. 8), Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band (Feb. 1, 2024), Sunny War (March 28, 2024) and a slew of other genre-spanning acts. If what you desire is something less defined and more low-key, stop by the museum from 5-8 p.m. on any given Hump Day for Wednesday Spins, a post-work mingling op in the awe-inspiring Cultural Living Room with a DJ and happy hour specials to help stimulate the banter.
Clinton Presidential Center
1200 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock
No matter what time of year you come to the Clinton Presidential Center, founded in 2004, you can expect — among oodles of other Clinton-era memorabilia — to set foot in full-size replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room, two integral White House sites where historically significant decisions are made to this day by the commanders-in-chief and their most trusted advisers. Though both are accurate recreations, the former takes precision to the next level by decorating the space exactly as Bill Clinton had it when he was in office. If that much Clinton intimacy feels indulgent to you, come out from June 8-Oct. 1 for Dinosaur Explorer, an exhibition that explores the links between presidential policy and public knowledge about the prehistoric reptiles and boasts 20 advanced animatronic dinosaurs.
Museum of Native American History
202 SW O St., Bentonville
No new exhibits are on the books yet for the Museum of Native American History, but that doesn’t mean a trip up to Northwest Arkansas isn’t worth it, especially if you’re already in the area to check out the Walton mammoths. Founded in 2004 by David Bogle, a member of the Cherokee Nation who was born and raised in Bentonville, the MONAH collection consists of 14,000 years worth of indigenous culture. Divided into the Paleo (12000 BC-8000 BC), Archaic (8000 BC-1000 BC), Woodlands (1000 BC-900 AD), Mississippian (900 AD-1450 A.D.) and Historic (1650 AD-1900 AD) time periods, the museum’s accumulation of over 10,000 artifacts from the First Americans allows for a panoramic view of human development in an untouched environment and the ways in which that trajectory was forever altered by the intrusion of an outside force.
Historic Arkansas Museum
200 E. Third St., Little Rock
If it feels like the Historic Arkansas Museum — home to the Hinderliter Grog Shop, the oldest still-standing building in Little Rock, constructed in 1827 — was plopped right in the middle of the chaos of downtown, it’s really the other way around. Aside from the transplanting of an 1830s plantation home from Scott, the other 19th century structures on the grounds — the McVicar and Brownlee houses from the 1840s and an Arkansas Gazette print shop from the 1820s — have been reconstructed, maintained and restored in their original locations. Every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., you’ll find costumed staff members and hands-on crafting activities on the grounds, which is a great time to bring the kids. In addition to these more immersive offerings, the museum portion of this entity is known for its extensive collection of Arkansas-made artisan crafts in the broadest sense of the word, including but not limited to the work of cabinet makers, silversmiths, potters, quilters and tailors. Much visual art from Arkansans of the past and present is also on display. Make sure to check out “We Walk In Two Worlds,” a permanent exhibit with over 150 pieces of pottery, clothing and weapons from the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw people of Arkansas.
Mid-America Science Museum
500 Mid America Blvd., Hot Springs
Leave the formal museum attitude at home; everything at the Mid-America Science Museum — established in 1979 — is designed to be tinkered with. Whether you’re investigating the magic of movement through the Vertical Wave Machine, the Bicycle-Wheel Loopy and the Sand Pendulum of the Marvelous Motion Gallery; examining the ever-changing creation of prisms and color through visual manipulations on the Light Bridge; or traversing the various ropes of the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk (which overlooks 21 beautifully wooded acres), you’re in control of the experience. This summer, a nostalgia-pumped exhibition called Toytopia will travel to the Mid-America Science Museum, providing visitors of all generations with a window into the fast-evolving science and ingenuity behind their favorite childhood pastimes (June 10-Sept. 4). The world’s largest Etch A Sketch — nearly 8 feet tall! — will be on site for all to put their paws on.