Travel Guide: Visual Arts Travel

The recent rebirth of the art museum as a center for cultural renewal has directed arts tourists to focus on museum design. Built in 2010, the Design Museum Holon in Israel is a cultural and educational resource for designers and the general public. (Wikipedia Commons)

The number of well-trained arts scholars is rising worldwide, along with the number of art museums, and with this, an industry of expert-led visual arts travel emerges. It is fun to peruse online itineraries planned by art enthusiasts. Their expertise ranges from medieval Armenian manuscripts to contemporary museum design, and their idiosyncratic passions can inspire new ideas for exploring art.

While prices vary, most companies pair the cultural knowledge of scholars with fine cuisine, elegant cruise vessels and top hotels. But what do adjectives like “top” and “luxurious” mean? They might appear alongside higher prices, but the two together might not ensure the quality you seek. In this competitive market, you can ask for specifics and find reviews of a trip’s hotels, restaurants and subcontracted tours. Try to communicate directly with the company or the host.

Expert hosts bring considerable advantages. Museum contacts or academic credit can yield access to private collections or time with artists, collectors and curators. Cultural context is their passion, and they know how a local cuisine or architectural setting can add to your enjoyment of artwork. Each host brings a unique personality, but generally, arts professionals are likely to introduce you to nuances that will maximize the artistic value of your trip.

Travel companions too, set the tone for discovery. Savvy company can be useful and fun: How did you get to that bookstore-café? Which museum entrance is close to the mosaics? The Museum Travel Alliance (MTA), a consortium of 64 museums, organizes about 30 trips each year around connoisseur hosts and like-minded travelers. In MTA’s trips, curators and other scholars lead guests into exclusive viewings. Their hosts arrange behind-the-scenes visits to museums and other cultural sites as well as time for conversation with local arts leaders. MTA travel is open to supporters of the museums in its consortium, which often encourage their own members to travel together. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art belong to MTA’s consortium.

The recent rebirth of the art museum as a center for cultural renewal has directed arts tourists to focus on museum design. Built in 2010, the Design Museum Holon in Israel is a cultural and educational resource for designers and the general public. (Wikipedia Commons)

A number of museums curate trips and provide artwork-access that takes you off the crowded tourist track. “Travel with the Met,” a year-round series of trips offered by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, allows their prestigious staff of curators and lecturers to lead small groups abroad. They visit places like sumptuous estates in Ireland, palaces in Tibet, and the finest restaurants and galleries in Beirut. The cruises in their “Set Sail with the Met” series host travelers on historic vessels, which are works of art in themselves. The Met frequently updates its website with new itineraries. To ensure a place in its small cohorts, early registration is recommended and often brings a sizeable discount, as well.

Australia-based Academy Travel focuses its tours on depth of knowledge, leading small groups to destinations worldwide. Academytravel.com.au is a stellar website (don’t forget the “.au”) filled with well-organized information that helps hone anyone’s trip planning skills: what is the ratio of solo travelers to couples? Are there cultural restrictions on attire? From temples in Iran to folk arts in Mexico, their 2019 and 2020 selections are a good way to fuel your wanderlust, and to organize it, as well.

American museums large and small offer enticing travel opportunities, although the level of donorship required for travel benefits will vary from museum to museum. Often, those with larger overall budgets plan their trips for higher levels of donorship. The Princeton Museum of Art and Milwaukee Art Museum are examples of smaller galleries that create trips with their own curatorial staff, offering these with basic membership.

Cape Town, South Africa’s breathtaking, natural beauty surrounds the repurposed grain silos of the city’s new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. We feature an interior view of Zeitz MOCAA on this issue’s Art of Life cover. (Erika R. Brenner, Wikimedia)

The boom in arts tourism is spawning independent collectives of tour guides, such as Art Muse Los Angeles, which describes itself as “a community of . . . historians, artists and educators who offer small groups private art tours . . .”
An abundance of well-trained visual arts professionals is shifting cultural tourism to an arena of boutique experiences, awaiting the interests of travelers.

Enjoy the buyer’s edge in this market by making suggestions and requests!

To find your way to meaningful art encounters requires searching, budgeting and shopping, but it also calls on your sense of artistic freedom, and as you plan, you can learn a lot about your own taste. Inquire and discriminate about the trip’s details! After all, in the halls where your art memories reside, the curator is you.

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