The Walkable Museum District

Houston Museum DistrictPosted April 1, 2012 in In The News

How walkable is the Houston Museum District? To try and find out, I started thinking about the geographic outliers of the District, and identified them as Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, the Houston Zoo, and The Menil Collection. These would be the boundaries of my walking adventure. However, before I set out on foot, I  wanted check the distances:




At this point, I’m thinking this is going to be pretty easy, but there’s no better way to know than to do. So on Thursday, March 29 at 10:00 AM, I pulled in to the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft parking lot. After a quick check in at the front desk with their incredibly courteous staff, I set about checking out the current exhibits. I also met their most informative Curatorial Fellow, Susie Silbert. She took some time out of her day to explain to me the mechanics behind Transference by Andy Paiko and Ethan Rose, an ethereal installation currently on view at HCCC. The exhibit uses an interesting looking contraption (pictured below) to simulate the sound made when you run your finger around the rim of a wine glass. You will hear this exhibit before you ever see it in the gallery. Susie explained to me the different components that made the exhibit work. The glass vessels all rotate using motors from dyalysis machines because they were the quietest motors the artists could find. Also, the artists spent a lot of time on the material and substance used to replicate the human finger to make the glasses sing. Turns out terry cloth does the trick quite well. However, simple water would not do as it would dry out too quickly. They turned to chemical experts to find the right substance, and ended up using a watered down glycerin solution that worked without drying out too quickly. Still, HCCC staff members must moisten the exhibit throughout the day. Susie also told me the exhibit is performing differently here in Houston based on the humidity and necessity of air conditioning to keep comfortable inside. The airflow from the AC creates different conditions for vessels positioned in the air flow of their air vents.


After enjoying the relaxing sounds of Transference, I set out on the first leg of my journey to the Houston Zoo. There was one big difference between this walk down Main Street and my treks down Michigan Avenue in Chicago, there were no people. It was really quite nice. Your only companions on the sidewalks in the Houston Museum District are squirrels hunting for acorns. It is important to note on this path you walk right by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Not to mention the Children’s Museum of Houston, Holocaust Museum Houston, and the Health Museum residing mere blocks away. I reached the Zoo right around lunch time. While I had a number of eating choices to choose from in the immediate area, I made plans to meet up with a friend for lunch at Bodega’s Taco Shop. I realized after lunch I was slightly off my original path, so I decided to detour to the Rice Gallery. It was during this walk that Mother Nature stepped in to introduce my first major obstacle of the day: rain. There is a saying in Houston, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute, it’ll change.” In this case, the rain wasn’t all that bad, and I was able to reach the Rice Gallery fairly dry and comfortable. Unfortunately, the gallery was closed while it installed a new exhibit, reverse in volume (RG) by Yasuaki Onishi, set to open on Friday, April 13. I have more comments on this particular situation in my Tips for Walking the Houston Museum District. After a brief respite to get my bearings, I set off on my longest, and most challenging stretch.

rice-menil.PNG It wasn’t the distance that made this walk challenging, it was the rain. It really started coming down as I trekked to The Menil Collection. However, the rain did not bother me much armed with my Davek Umbrella. This walk also took me through one of Houston’s most beautiful neighborhoods, Boulevard Oaks. The rain could not dampen my spirits as I walked down Mandell, eventually walking OVER the Southwest Freeway.


The image above is why Houston faces a challenge of perspective when it comes to being known as a walkable city. You don’t walk over too many 10-lane freeways in Chicago. However, I can say after traversing the Mandell Street bridge, in the rain, there is nothing to fear and everything to gain by stepping out in Houston on foot. The entire journey from Rice Gallery to The Menil Collection covered 1.57 miles and 38:40, again, in the rain. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit water logged and starting to feel the days journey. I sat down on one of the Menil’s “porch” benches to take a good swig from my water bottle and collect myself. It was at this point, I learned a great benefit to walking around the Houston Museum District in the rain. Ultimately, it allows you to spend more time inside a museum while you wait for the weather to improve. I’ll also say you should totally take advantage of the opportunity to get to know the particular museum you find yourself “trapped” in by the rain. I’ve long been a fan of the Menil, and I made my way straight to my favorite permanent collection, Surrealism. Tucked away in a dark corner of the museum, the Surrealism collection at the Menil is a fascinating place to spend an afternoon hiding from the rain. My personal highlight is Witnesses, a “room of wonders” containing 200 objects that belonged to or are similar to items that inspired the artists of the Surrealism movement. After allowing myself to dry out, it was time for the home stretch of my walking adventure. While the rain had slackened, it was still coming down at a steady pace. Fortunately, this walk included a stroll down Montrose Boulevard, home to a number of great restaurants and bars. Had it been a little later, I might have stopped in Zimm’s Martini & Wine Bar for a cocktail or the Chelsea Grill for a quick bite to eat.


Here are the approximate distances and times for my walks around the Houston Museum District:

  • Houston Center for Contemporary Craft to Houston Zoo – 1.17 miles, 28:00
  • Bodega’s Taco Shop to Rice Gallery – 0.88 miles, 25:16
  • Rice Gallery to The Menil Collection – 1.57 miles, 38:40
  • The Menil Collection to Houston Center for Contemporary Craft – 1.33, 32:10

Roughly 5 miles travelled between 10:00 AM and 3:15 PM. This trip is simply a suggestion. With 19 member institutions and a larger number of neighborhood eating and drinking establishments, the Houston Museum District offers an endless number of opportunities to ditch your car, and explore the arts, culture, and science we make available to visitors and residents of Houston, Texas. We invite you to create your own trek, and discover the wonders of the Houston Museum District on foot soon!