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Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

8 Most Popular Museums in Iowa (2023)

For any Country, State, or City, its museums are one of the prominent institutions. Museums are those landmarks that preserve the heritage, be it in the form of history, science, art, nature, or whatever. Further, it contextualizes and presents the collection in such a way that every visitor can have a deep and meaningful understanding of the same. Museums are absolutely wonderful, and there are quite a few in Iowa. The Hawkeye State has those regular art and sculpture museums, science centers, and facilities dedicated to Mississippi, of course, and several off-beaten ones.

On an annoyingly sunny afternoon, or when the breeze is chilling cold, museums are the best place to visit. These outdoor explorative afternoons let you know the region, find new facts, deepen your knowledge, and make the efforts more meaningful. Museums are jewels for the public that they can’t take back home, but these facilities definitely provide experiences and information. So why wait? If you happen to visit Iowa, do consider adding its museums to your itinerary. Here are some of the best Iowa museums that you can’t miss visiting.

8 Most Popular Museums in Iowa

Have a look:

1. National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is definitely the most popular museum in Iowa. The museum is located in Dubuque city and has been operating for decades now. It is dedicated to preserving and presenting the Mississippi River’s culture and history, along with that of the Gulf of Mexico and other American river systems as well. Here, exhibits consist of live animals like giant catfish, turtles, rays, octopus, ducks, frogs, etc. Or, in its outdoor exhibits, one can observe a small stream, a marsh, boats, a blacksmith shop, raptor aviaries, and much more. Besides working as a museum, the facility also works as a science center and aquarium. Beyond letting observers watch different displays, it also allows them to learn science, marine life, and other essentials all in one place. The museum operates through the week from 10 am to 4/5 pm.

2. Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art is a dynamic art museum located in downtown Cedar Rapids. It has been operating since 1905 and has acquired different buildings before finally shifting to its current building, designed by architect Charles Moore. The museum holds a significant collection of over 7000 artworks from several prominent Iowa artists. It is also home to the world’s largest collection of artworks by Grant Wood, Marvin Cone, and Bertha Jaques. For instance, it has Grand Wood’s paintings, Marvin Cone’s best-known landscapes and abstracts, along with significant art pieces by Mauricio Lasansky, Ann Royer, and other prominent artists. While exploring the museum, you can also find American Gothic painting, one of the most famous artworks in the world. Along with its permanent collection, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art also hosts 10 temporary rotations throughout the year.

3. Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum

Clarinda Carnegie is a popular art museum located inside a historic building in Clarinda city in Iowa. The museum was formerly Clarinda Carnegie Library but in 2014, two natives, Robert and Karen Duncan, transformed it into a contemporary art museum. The museum is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is reportedly known for housing one of the top 50 private collections in the United States. Robert and Karen Duncan, as a couple, own more than 2,000 works of art that are now displayed in this museum. The display here includes paintings, photographs, sculptures, restored artworks, artifacts, and several other art objects. The owners install a new collection twice a year, so if you happen to visit here 6 months apart, you will find everything new and refreshing. The museum operates Wednesdays and Sundays afternoons from 1 pm to 4 pm and offers free admission.

4. Figge Art Museum

Also known as Figge, the Figge Art Museum is undoubtedly one of the most popular museums in Iowa. It is known for housing one of the best art and media collections in Iowa and is quite praised for the same. In addition, its encyclopedic art collection serves as a major draw between western Illinois and the Eastern Iowa region. Figge has been operating since 2005, and in less than 17 years of operation, it has gained enough popularity and awards. Its collection includes artwork by Frank Lloyd Wright, a collection by Iowan artist Grant Wood who is also known for its American Gothic painting, and pieces from several notable American artists. Charles Ficke donated the first few art pieces from his personal collection during the museums’ initial days. And today, after over a decade, the museum holds nearly 3000 and even more art and media installations from State and beyond. The museum operates Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am every day. While operating hours generally extend till 5 pm, they go by 8 pm on Thursdays.

5. John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park

The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a free-to-visit open-air museum located in downtown Des Moines. Spread over 4.4 acres, the sculpture park was established in 2009 with 24 grand sculptures. These initial sculptures were lent down by Mary Louise Pappajohn and John Pappajohn with a valuation of about $40 million USD. The couple was known for their recognized art collection and exclusive art pieces. The sculpture park later acquired four more pieces making it a collection of 28 sculptures. The number might appear less, but the United States has one of the most significant collections of outdoor sculptures. The most notable piece on these open grounds of Des Moines is the 27-foot-tall human form made of a latticework of steel letters. Besides that, Yayoi Kusama’s polka-dotted Pumpkin too is quite appealing and a must-see. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park operates from dusk to dawn and is open for all to visit.

6. Iowa Children’s Museum

An award-winning non-profit organization, the Iowa Children’s Museum is a must-visit museum in Iowa. Though the facility works towards entertaining adolescence, even parents can find pleasure here while accompanying their little ones. The museum offers interactive exhibits, hands-on programs, and multiple community outreaches, ensuring every single kid is engaged. The educational exhibits here focus on art, craft, science, math, technology, engineering, financial literacy, school readiness, and much more. The museum has enough space for all kinds of interactive learning, for example, City Works interactive Children’s Hospitable studio, Notion of Motion playroom, and much more. The little ones visiting here can learn the science of skateboarding, enter a pirate’s ship, can take a pretend trip to the moon, and indulge in several entertaining and learning activities. The Iowa Children’s Museum operates Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm.

7. Squirrel Cage Jail Museum

The Squirrel Cage Jail Museum was originally the Pottawattamie Jailhouse. It is currently one of the only three rotary jails present in the world. While most rotary jails had just one floor, Squirrel Cage Jail has three stacked levels of holding cells. Its unique design and a different combination made it gain the name Squirrel cage. Today, this jail operates as a museum and is also a part of the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors today can come here and observe how prisoners used to survive (and not live) once in these whirling hoosegows. The wilder innovations of past surprise, shock, and literally entertain Iowa visitors.

8. National Hobo Museum

Apparent by its name, the National Hobo Museum is truly a unique museum in Iowa. It is located in the town of Britt and dedicated itself totally to the life of Hobos. The museum was established by 3 lifelong hobos and former Hobo Kings. These individuals formed the Hobo Foundation during the 1970s and brought the museum into reality during the 1980s. Initially, the museum operated with a single box of artifacts and money gifted by some unknown Hobo. Though today after several decades, the museum is home to a huge collection of authentic artifacts, memorabilia, paintings, photographs, and several other objects. The collection here basically narrates long Hobo stories and tells about America’s notable Hobos. A visit to this museum will allow you to dive deep into the vernacular archeology, a branch of Americana‑esque. The museum is located at the old Chief Theater, east side of Main Ave. S. between Center and 1st Sts, and operates from Memorial day through Hobo days.

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