Our community is known for its rich cultural environment, but many locals and visitors do not realize how many free activities are available to the public each and every day. Whether you're just visiting for the weekend (welcome!) or you're looking for something to do every day of the week, here is our guide to where you can find free local art activities year round in our community.
Editor's Note: To make this guide more accessible, we have included graphics to indicate the specific audiences served at each location.
✢ Suitable for all ages. |✩ Great for children! | ◇ More to know
1. The Columbus Museum ✢ ☆
One of the largest museums in the Southeast, the Columbus Museum is unusual because of its dual focus on American art and regional history. This dual concentration is evident in all exhibits and in its permanent collection, but perhaps the crowning glory of our local museum is its outstanding educational programming for people of all ages.
Visitors can enjoy this cultural gem for free, six days a week, all year long. Looking for a specific date to plan your visit? Check out their calendar for details on current programming and exhibits.
◇ Editor's Note: This is a public museum with exhibits that change regularly. The museum staff and volunteers are wonderful and extremely knowledgeable about everything on display. They are especially helpful to parents of young children who may be curious about what exhibits are on each floor, and what each exhibit contains. Also, check for the museum's family guides located outside of some of the exhibits. If you see a family guide, grab one (they're free!) and explore the carefully curated exhibit in a way that your children will enjoy and understand.
2. Columbus Public Library ✢ ☆
Named one of the 10 Most Beautiful Libraries in Georgia, the Columbus Public Library is an unlimited resource of free educational and entertainment activities for all ages. The library houses over 50 public access computers with internet access, multiple wi-fi meeting rooms, an auditorium, the Aflac Children’s Department & Story Time Room, and the Ruth Brooks Yancey Children’s Garden.
Yes, you read that correctly, Aflac. The locally-owned Fortune 500 company built an entire section of the library just for children. And if you haven't seen it or utilized its resources, you're missing out.
A forest of fun awaits you and your children (or grandchildren!) in the Aflac Children's Department. Their monthly programming includes story times for all ages, STEAM workshops, family movie nights, music classes, art exhibits, author visits, and more. Head straight to the front desk and request a calendar or check it out online.
And, on April 13, the Wild Things are coming! Columbus Public Library just announced a special exhibit of Maurice Sendak - 50 Years. 50 Works. 50 Reasons. The exhibit opens April 13 and runs through May 25. Stay tuned for more information, but in the meantime, visit the exhibit's website here.
3. The Bo Bartlett Center ✢ ◇
The Bo Bartlett Center is housed on the River Park campus of Columbus State University. The interactive gallery space is on the second floor of a red brick, former textile warehouse designed and transformed by AIA award winning architect, Tom Kundig.
Bo Bartlett is a Columbus native, American Realist painter. The Center focuses on exploring the life, work, and context of the work and studio practice of Bartlett.
The Bartlett Center is highly unique in that it is a partnership between a living artist and a state university. It also features many changing exhibitions and programming throughout the year. Past events have included a collection of Warhol paintings, monthly classical music concerts, masterclasses with Bartlett and other featured artists, workshops, lectures, and film.
The center also features a tremendously unique storage system that allows the housing and organization of a number of Bartlett's large paintings. In the video below, David Houston, Executive Director and Curator of the Bartlett Center, discusses the artist and gallery storage system. It's also a wonderful way to preview the collection before you go.
◇ Editor's Note: For parents, when and how and what to expose children to in art is a very personal decision. While we have taken our children and the children of friends to the Bartlett Center on numerous occasions, some readers may not elect to do the same. Our best suggestion is to watch the video above to preview the content of many of the pantings and decide for yourself.
4. Art Walk Columbus, Ga. ✢ ☆ ◇
Our city is home to an enormous amount of public art thanks largely in part to Artbeat. Artbeat is a two week long period each year that is set aside to display the role of the arts in our community. The annual event, now in its fourth year, has provided a comprehensive list of public art in our city.
All of the works or places listed on the map above are free to visit and easily accessible to anyone. They also have an annual coloring book for kids, and you can access them all here. This year's Artbeat runs April 1-15. Don't miss the many events taking place - take a look at the full schedule here.
◇To explore the Art Walk with children, we suggest picking a coloring book page, finding it on the map, and then letting kids color the work on the page while you visit. It's a wonderful way to let them interpret art, for free, as they experience it for the first time.
5. The National Infantry Museum ✢ ☆
Columbus is home to The National Infantry Museum, a collection of more than 70,000 artifacts from the last 240 years of American military history. In addition to some of the most current military exhibits, the museum houses an incredible Giant Screen Theater and a full-service restaurant.
There's also a new art gallery that just opened with an exhibit running called Al Reid’s Portraits of Leadership. According to the museum, "Reid began his career as a graphic illustrator at Fort Benning and later served as Resident Artist and Exhibits Specialist for the National Infantry Museum, where was instrumental in the completion of dozens of exhibits and created nearly 40 works of fine art."
The NIM also runs several free film festivals throughout the year for children. View the latest schedule here.
◇Editor's Note: While admission to the museum is technically free, a $5 donation is suggested to support the museum's important work in documenting our military's history and culture. We'd appreciate it if you'd take this donation request to heart and join us in supporting our troops whenever possible.
6. Schwob School of Music ✢ ◇
Known as one of the premiere performance halls in the southeast, Legacy Hall at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts is home to over 200 free concerts a year thanks to the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University.
Guests can hear everything from Beethoven to Paul Simon and all genres in between. From organ recitals to solo drummers and opera to funk, Legacy Hall has it - and every performance put on by the Schwob School of Music is free.
It's not all students, either. International artists are regularly brought in for guest recitals and masterclasses throughout the year. In addition, faculty artists perform recitals featuring their colleagues and some of the top artists in the world. Other events include a summer music festival, an international guitar festival, and many other annual events where guests can attend performances for free.
Editor's Note: We did not mark this free art venue as suitable for children, but that does not always ring true. While it is considered poor concert etiquette to bring young babies or children to any performance not intended for their age group, many daytime concerts welcome children old enough to sit quietly and enjoy the music. We'd encourage you to check the schedule of performances for concerts suitable for children. Additionally, if there's something you'd really like to hear, call the school and ask if sitting in on a rehearsal would be permitted. Again, while this is not always permitted, some artists and ensembles welcome children in rehearsals - and simple ask that you remove the child if they become disruptive.
A fantastic example of this are the Open Rehearsals held by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. Check them out here!
Did we miss something?
If you know of another free local art resource, please let us know. We will continue to update this list as time goes on, and would love to include your suggestions. Contact us here to submit a location. ◼︎