Several much-anticipated exhibition openings await Smithsonian Institution visitors this year. A copy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s original “I Have a Dream” speech is now on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, while the Smithsonian American Art Museum will see paintings from William H. Johnson’s 1940s Fighters for Freedom series, which includes depictions of famous historical figures such as Harriet Tubman and Mahatma Gandhi as well as lesser-known individuals, all working toward the common goal of world peace. This spring, the National Museum of American History offers visitors an opportunity to engage in hands-on activities that show how inventions improve sports, and to view the very 1966 Honda CB77 “Super Hawk” motorcycle that inspired Robert Pirsig’s fictionalized autobiography Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Other highlights include the chance to explore the narrative art of the Plains through everything from historical hides to contemporary ledger sketches at the National Museum of the American Indian; contemplate fiber arts as a means of modern female expression at the Renwick Gallery; or peruse artworks, photographs and archival materials highlighting Brazilian identical twin brothers Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo (who work under the name OSGEMEOS), and their hip-hop-inspired urban graffiti traditions, at the Hirshhorn Museum.
Around the globe, an array of new museum openings are also poised to enlighten and inspire. Fingers crossed that 2024 is the year that the Grand Egyptian Museum will at long last welcome public visitors, and the open quarry digs and “Hall of Extinction and Hope,” where visitors can explore ways to take action against climate change, at South Jersey’s Edelman Fossil Park Museum are now opening this summer. Whether you’re looking to test your thespian skills on the same stage where the Bard of Avon once stood, delve into LGBTQ+ history through the eyes of a Stonewall pioneer or save a princess from a giant gorilla in “Donkey Kong,” these ten museums will surely bring you into the action and provide a whole new appreciation for what this planet—and its universe—have to offer.
Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center; New York City
When police raided Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn in the early morning of June 28, 1969—a practice increasingly common at gay bars in that period, under pretexts ranging from “disorderly conduct” to a violation of liquor laws—they set off a series of uprisings that became a huge turning point in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. President Barack Obama officially designated the site as a national monument in 2016. Now, a visitor center dedicated to sharing the history of the inn—along with its lasting legacy—will be opening next door.
With a grand opening set for June 28, 2024, the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center will be the first visitor center devoted to the LGBTQ+ rights movement within the National Park Service system. Pride Live is the nonprofit social advocacy group overseeing this inclusive space, curating select works that highlight the history of Stonewall. These include moments specially chosen by Stonewall pioneer and lifelong activist Mark Segal, a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front—an organization that formed in the immediate aftermath of the uprisings to provide a voice for the gay community.
The visitor center will host onsite tours, talks related to the LGBTQ+ community and the ongoing fight for equality, and even musical performances. There will also be two exhibitions that rotate regularly: one featuring up-and-coming LGBTQ+ artists, and another that highlights today’s generation of LGBTQ+ youth and allies and their experience, which is being created in partnership with the Parsons School of Design.
Astronomy Discovery Center at Lowell Observatory; Flagstaff, Arizona
One of the oldest observatories in the United States is about to get a lot more interactive with the opening of a new science museum. Scheduled to start welcoming visitors in November 2024, the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation Astronomy Discovery Center is geared toward everyone from amateur astronomers to people who simply enjoy looking at stars. The new multifaceted space includes a 180-seat immersive theater, which includes a wrap-around LED screen allowing visitors to get up-close views of remote landscapes (like those on Saturn and Mars); a Dark Sky Planetarium that utilizes the skies of Flagstaff for learning about planets and constellations; and two main exhibit halls.
In the Curiosity Zone, kids will have the opportunity to get hands-on with everything from building and launching their own foam rockets to manipulating light beams at an optics table using prisms and mirrors. The Astronomy Gallery, meanwhile, showcases the universe’s big questions—such as “How did we get here?”—and the many angles through which scientists tackle them, including math, art and spirituality. You may find yourself sending encoded messages into space one minute, then tracking real-life meteorites through the use of Lowell astronomer data the next.
The cosmos will be on full display throughout the space, with wall murals detailing astronomical objects like Comet Hale-Bopp and the Perseus cluster of galaxies, and gigantic ceiling-suspended planets, created approximately to scale to give visitors a sense of, say, how small Mercury is in relation to Jupiter.
Nintendo Museum; Kyoto, Japan
As one of the largest video game companies on the planet, Nintendo is very much a household name. Now, the minds behind such media franchises as “Pokémon” and “Super Mario” are opening an interactive museum to showcase the company’s 135-year history, from its 1889 beginnings as a maker of Japanese-style hanafuda playing cards through its rise as a video game giant. Opening within Kyoto’s former Uji Ogura Plant, which Nintendo once used for manufacturing trading cards and repairing toys and equipment, the space will be brimming with immersive exhibits highlighting some of the company’s most notable games, consoles and video game systems. Walk into the colorful worlds of “Donkey Kong” and “The Legend of Zelda”; test your skills using a Nintendo Switch (a gaming console that can be either hand-held or docked as a home system); and marvel at a Nintendo 64, the world’s first 64-bit home video game system when it launched in 1996 and the working console for 388 cartridge games—85 of which were sold exclusively in Japan.
Although there’s a tight lid on just what the museum will entail, you can expect a family-friendly experience, much like that of the company’s video games (think “Super Metroid,” “Tetris” and “Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!”).
Museum of Shakespeare; London
In 2011, archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) discovered the remains of one of London’s earliest theaters. Little did they know it would eventually become center stage for the city’s newest immersive and interactive museum. This spring, the Museum of Shakespeare opens its doors in the city’s Shoreditch neighborhood and on the site of the former Curtain Theatre, an early-Elizabethan playhouse (and precursor to the Globe) where the great Bard himself put on performances of Romeo and Juliet and Henry V, and even took to the stage in fellow playwright Ben Jonson’s “Every Man in His Humor.” It will also be the first time that the theater ruins are open to the public.
Visitors descend nearly ten feet underground and into a 16th-century day in the life of William Shakespeare, reimagined through innovative multi-sensory technology recreating the sights, sounds and even smells of 1598 London. A projected reconstruction of the playhouse sits right above the remains of the Curtain’s actual stage, and artificial-intelligence technology brings animated performances to life, so you can become a part of the action.
Along with some of the playhouse’s original brick walls and a portion of the sloping gravel surface where the groundlings (the era’s lower-class spectators) once stood to take in a show, several of the site’s excavated finds—including a piece of pottery likely used for stage effects and a broken-bone comb—will be on display.
The 19,000-square-foot museum, which is a collaboration between MOLA, Historic England and creative studio Bompas & Parr, is part of a larger 2.3-acre site that will include apartments, office buildings, shops and restaurants.
Kunstsilo Nordic Art Museum; Kristiansand, Norway
This May brings a massive new art museum and cultural center to the southern Norwegian city of Kristiansand. Occupying a meticulously restored 1935 grain silo overlooking the local harbor, Kunstsilo Nordic Art Museum will be home to curated programming that includes concerts and lectures, plenty of expansive views, and (the real kicker!) more than 35,000 square feet of exhibit space dedicated to Nordic modern art.
The museum’s three floors of works come from two main sources: the Southern Norway Art Museum and the Tangen Collection, the largest and most comprehensive private assemblage of Nordic modern art on the planet. The Southern Norway Art Museum brims with over 1,600 arts and crafts from mostly Norwegian artists, including naturalist painter Amaldus Nielsen, known for his local landscapes, and the legendary Edvard Munch (whose iconic painting The Scream is on display in Oslo’s Munch Museum). The Tangen Collection’s 3,000-plus works include ceramics, photography, paintings, installations and more, over 700 of which will be displayed in Kunstsilo’s inaugural exhibition, “Passions of the North,” a journey through Nordic 20th-century art unfolding across 25 rooms.
Interactive digital art and international contemporary exhibitions will also be part of Kunstsilo’s overall programming, and the museum itself intends to serve as an incubator for new ideas.
Hampi Art Labs; Hampi, India
The southern Indian town of Hampi is a center for traditional arts and crafts, such as Lambani embroidery, an intricate style of needlework that incorporates vivid colors, various stitches and mirrors. This also makes it an ideal base for a new creative space. Opening on February 6, Hampi Art Labs is a showcase for contemporary art-making, connecting artists with the region’s distinct craft traditions and techniques. The center brings together art galleries, exhibit spaces and production facilities in everything from printmaking and ceramics to new media and stone and metal sculpture; the expansive 18-acre space is also home to art studios, residency apartments and a café. Art patrons Sangita Jindal—chairperson of the JSW Foundation, the social development arm of India’s multinational JSW business conglomerate—and her daughter Tarini Jindal Handa are the center’s founders.
A work of art itself, Hampi Art Labs is built from locally sourced materials such as steel and soil that blend seamlessly with the natural landscape. Its opening exhibition, “Right Foot First,” is made up of artworks from the Jindal Collection spanning 1998 to 2023. They include pieces by contemporary Indian artist Shilpa Gupta, who works in everything from manipulated found objects to video art; visual and performance artist Madhavi Gore; and renowned pop art exponent Andy Warhol.
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s NHM Commons; Los Angeles
The largest natural and historical museum in the western United States is about to gain a whole new wing with the addition of NHM Commons, a 75,000-square-foot welcoming portal that will serve as a museum expansion and a community hub. Situated on the southwest side of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County campus in Exposition Park, the new addition—slated to open later in 2024—combines 53,000 square feet of renovated space with 22,000 square feet of new construction, resulting in increased exhibition space for the museum’s vast collection of artifacts and specimens, as well as a new 400-seat multipurpose theater for hosting everything from live theatrical performances to lectures about fossil invertebrates. Two newly formed advisory groups, the NHM Commons Native American Advisory Council and the NHM Commons Advisory Coalition, are also a part of co-curating and developing community engagement within the wing.
NHM Commons’ glass facade provides a smooth transition between indoor and outdoor, and the space includes free-to-access areas such as the Judith Perlstein Welcome Center, where Gnatalie—a colossal, green-hued skeletal mount of a long-neck dinosaur—greets visitors. The wing is also home to Chicana artist Barbara Carrasco’s mural L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective. It portrays the city’s history through 51 vignettes, each of them emphasizing the experience of marginalized groups. For instance, one depicts Japanese American internment during World War II, while another highlights the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. Each of them is “woven” into the hair of la Reina de los Ángeles, an ode to the city’s original name.
Freedom Monument Sculpture Park; Montgomery, Alabama
When it opens sometime early this year, Montgomery’s 17-acre Freedom Monument Sculpture Park will tell the story of enslaved Black Americans through a series of large-scale sculptures, on the very same Alabama River where tens of thousands of enslaved people were trafficked via boats and trains. This immersive journey through slavery honors the lives of the 10 million Black people once enslaved across America, and it celebrates their endless resilience, with 48 sculptures by 27 artists, more than half of which are site-specific. These include a new version of L.A.-based Alison Saar’s Treesouls, which features both a male figure and female figure, each rising from a base of tangled roots, and a trio of sculptures by Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo depicting an enslaved Black family in three different scenarios.
A circular route through woodlands connects the sculptures, along with 18 interspersed artifacts and exhibits detailing the history of slavery. Along with an actual whipping post, the park is home to two original dwellings that enslaved people once occupied.
At the heart of the site stands the 43-foot-tall, more than 150-foot-long National Monument to Freedom, honoring the millions of formerly enslaved Black people emancipated after the Civil War. It’s engraved with the names of more than 100,000 freed Black Americans, all taken directly from the 1870 United States census. This was the first census in U.S. history to include Black people by name alongside the rest of the country’s population.
Female Artists of the Mougins Museum; Mougins, France
Last August, longtime art collector Christian Levett closed his Mougins Museum of Classical Art—an antiquities museum in the south of France—with a sole purpose in mind: to convert the space into Europe’s first major museum dedicated entirely to women’s art. When it reopens this June as the Female Artists of the Mougins Museum (Femmes Artistes du Musée de Mougins), visitors can expect a renovated museum of rotating shows of modern and contemporary art by a wide range of female artists, all drawn from Levett’s personal collection. Look for riveting works by American painter and Abstract Expressionist Elaine de Kooning; Britain’s Sahara Longe, known for her paintings of semi-abstract figures set against richly hued backdrops; and multimedia artist Carrie Mae Weems, whose photographic Kitchen Table Series from the 1990s became a voice for Black women.
Grand Egyptian Museum; Cairo
It’s been more than two decades in the making, but 2024 may finally be the year that the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) opens its doors to the public. Although we’re not making any promises, this colossal project (which we featured as part of our most anticipated museums in 2020, 2022 and 2023) is slated to start welcoming visitors sometime this summer. When it does, it will be the largest archaeological museum complex on the planet—a place overflowing with more than 100,000 artifacts and thousands of years of history, dating from prehistoric times to modern Egypt. From its 2,000-foot-tall translucent stone facade to the colossal statue of Ramses II standing in the complex’s sun-filled atrium entry, GEM makes a strong first impression to visitors.
Roam among thematic gardens; an interactive children’s museum; and a huge collection of antiquities, art and artifacts—a fifth of which will be on public display for the first time ever. Another complex highlight is the Khufu ship, a 20-ton, 4,600-year-old solar barge once owned by the pharaoh Khufu and discovered in 1954 near Egypt’s Great Pyramid.
Still, GEM’s undeniable centerpiece remains its Tutankhamun full treasure collection, featuring approximately 5,000 items found within the young king’s tomb—from a shield adorned in cheetah skin to a pair of sandals worn by the pharaoh himself.