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Photo Credits: Aker/Zvonkovic, Rob Williamson

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

Visual art takes many forms. It can be a watercolor hung lovingly in a home, a photograph taken with a discerning eye, a sculpture molded from clay, or a piece of modern art consuming the entire wall of an art gallery. Art is everywhere. And why is that? Perhaps it’s because artists have the need to represent the world, or some piece of it, through their own perception, and we have the need to see our world reflected back to us in a way that intrigues us, stimulates our minds, encourages us to ask questions, or simply moves us to great emotion. Visual art does all this and much more, and is important, because not only is it an outlet for creativity, it is a medium that educates and inspires us at the same time.


It would be an understatement to say that The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) is aware of the importance of visual art in our daily lives. With its diverse permanent collection, intriguing exhibitions, public programs, community involvement, and resources, the MFAH not only understands visual art’s importance, it celebrates it, making it accessible to all Houstonians for their pleasure and enrichment.

 Established in 1900, the MFAH is the oldest art museum in Texas. An important part of the Houston landscape since its inception, the main campus of the MFAH is an integral component of the city’s Museum District. It comprises the Audrey Jones Beck Building, the Caroline Wiess Law Building, the Glassell School of Art, and the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden. Its other facilities, the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, and Rienzi, two remarkable house museums with outstanding collections of American and European decorative arts, are nearby.


A key component of the museum’s mandate is to provide stimulating programs that immerse visitors in art for their edification and enjoyment at no cost. To this end, the MFAH offers imaginative series and stand-alone experiences for all age groups and interests.


For children and families, the “Sunday Family Zone + Studio” offers a suite of programs whose activities include the adventure of exploring a particular gallery, listening to special storybooks, sharpening looking skills with sketching, and creating individual works of art; the “Family Storybook Circle” connects art with entertaining stories; “Little Art Adventures,” especially designed for children from three to five years of age, includes fun activities and simple art projects.


For adults, “Art Beyond Sight” engages visitors who are blind or partially sighted in the collections and exhibitions with verbal descriptions and hands-on material; “Looking Together” engages those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and their family members, in discussions about different works of art; “Happy Hour Thursdays” offers general admission at no cost, cash bar, music, and fun food-truck bites; the historically themed “Rienzi and Bayou Bend Book Club” brings good books and conversation together; “Yoga in the Gardens at Rienzi,” combines exercise with beauty in a calming setting and includes a tour of  Rienzi’s house and gardens; “Photography in the Gardens of Bayou Bend” provides photographers with the opportunity to capture the bayou’s blooms, woodlands, and landscapes through their own lenses.


The MFAH is also dedicated to community outreach by bringing exciting and creative programs to those who need them most. “Art for the Mind and Spirit” brings meaningful visual arts experiences to Texas Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Shriners Hospital for Children, Houston. The program’s activities have been designed for families and children to encourage them to view their surroundings as less sterile, less threaten- ing, and less stressful; create an opportunity for self-expression; and allow participants to feel they are in control.

On-site workshops at each facility introduce participants to a work of art from the MFAH collection, which they explore through discussion as well as the addition of related images and hands-on materials. A wonderful bonus of each session is the opportunity for the participants to take part in a related art project of their own. Each activity accommodates therapy and treatment schedules and is adapted to any physical, mental, or emotional limitations participants face. It is also designed to provide comfort, solace, and healing to patients as well as to their families and caregivers.


“Glassell-on-the-Go” is a program of the Glassell School of Art, the teaching institute of the MFAH. The new studio art program brings the high quality youth art classes of the Glassell Junior School to underserved school students and their families. Two underserved schools in the Houston Metropolitan area will benefit from mobile art classes taught by esteemed members of the Glassell Junior School Faculty. Each semester will culminate in a trip to the MFAH for the students and their families.


The Glassell Junior School is the nation’s only museum-affiliated school to offer year-round art instruction to children ages three to eighteen. While it maintains an active scholarship program for underserved students to take classes at the MFAH, the new “Glassell-on-the-Go” initiative will bring art classes to students who wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to travel to the museum district and derive the benefit of everything it has to offer.


With an eye to its future, the MFAH is currently involved in a project to design and build a facility dedicated to 20th- and 21st-century art as well as a new residence for the Glassell School of Art. Both buildings, along with a sculpture garden, will be linked to the existing gallery structures. When the project is complete, the result will be a 14-acre public campus that will further enhance the lives of Houstonians by multiplying their opportunities for being immersed in the wonderful world of art.



Degas: The Dance Class

Degas: Racehorses in a Landscape

Degas: Woman in a tub

Degas: A Cotton Office in New Orleans

Emperors' Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei

Half Portraits of Empress Chang and Emperor Xuande

Champlevé ewer with European figures in landscape

Vase with revolving core and eight trigram design

Gold bowl used personally by the Qianlong Emperor, Qing Dynasty

Bowl with tree leaf design, Southern Song Dynasty

Consisting of over 160 works of art rarely experienced outside of Taipei, “Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei” highlights the artistic and cultural contributions of imperial rulers in China from the Song dynasty to the Qing dynasty. The unique selection of paintings, bronzes, calligraphy, and decorative arts, which exemplifies superb craftsmanship and imperial tastes, offers Houstonians a glimpse into the roles played by eight emperors and one empress in establishing and developing new artistic directions through the treasures they collected, commissioned, and in some cases, created. It’s a fascinating way to discover how Chinese art evolved and flourished under Han Chinese, Mongol, and Manchu rulers.