My husband works at the University of Missouri-Columbia (UMC), and even he didn’t realize the wealth of eclectic art and downright bizarre exhibits on display until I recently dragged him all over campus for an early evening of culture. And since the museums and galleries are all free, it is a cheap date activity which my economist husband appreciates.
There are two things to keep in mind to make your visit more enjoyable. The hours vary, and are heavily tilted toward weekday openings, so please check individual websites before heading out. Also – parking on or near campus is difficult. Pick a nice weather day, pack a bag full of quarters, park in a nearby garage, and plan to walk a lot. On the plus side, all that side-by-side time means you get to hold hands all date long!
Start your do-it-yourself MU Gallery and Museum Crawl at the Museum of Art & Archeology in Pickard Hall. This is truly one of my favorite “hidden” gems in Columbia. The museum is stuffed full of gorgeous art spanning seven millennia and six continents, changing exhibits and artifacts, and even a bird mummy (I’ve nicknamed him Bud!).
Kids love the Museum of Anthropology next door in Swallow Hall. There are lots of Native American artifacts, but my favorite sections cover Missouri history and prehistory. And if you are an archery buff, this is also the home of the world’s (yes – WORLDS) most comprehensive collection. Fair disclosure, my husband liked the bows, but I spent more time in the nearby Fair Trade gift shop.
Located in the Fine Arts Building is the George Bingham Gallery. The exhibits change frequently, and I’ve been to several shows there by students and faculty. The exhibit we saw featured works by UMC professors. There were some amazing contemporary pieces, but to my untrained eye this particular one just looked like a bunch of romance paperbacks in a crib. I had a lot of fun trying to sound pretentious as we discussed it with others eavesdropping nearby.
My husband’s favorite gallery is the State Historical Society of Missouri in Ellis Library. He is a history buff, but since I’m not so inclined I found their info tags very helpful. Currently there is a political cartoon show on display, and I love their large collection of art by Thomas Hart Benton and Woodcutter Fred Geary. Several of their publications and books are for sale, and have been well received by those to whom they have been gifted.
In the Agriculture Building is the Ennis Entomology Museum. This tiny little spot is stuffed full – literally! Numerous cases feature over 6 million specimens of insets, arachnids and fossils from the Ozark Plateau, the Midwest and some exotic locales. Some of the more crusty creatures are alive, and the day we visited you had the option to let a friendly walking stick trot up your arm (I passed).
A great spot for star gazing is the Laws Observatory on the 5th floor of the Physics Building. Open every Wednesday evening, this was the first observatory built in the Western United States. The friendly guides, usually associated with the Department of Physics & Astronomy or the Central MO Amateur Astrologers, sometimes give lectures before the viewing entitled Cosmic Conversations. They help me know if I’m looking at the moon, a meteor shower, or an oil blob on the lens of the telescope.
There are several more museums on campus, which I’ll feature in an upcoming blog post. In the meanwhile, get out there and enjoy the culture that flows freely in a university town.