Six of the best new museums in the US for 2023

Whether musical theatre, feminist art or mid-century design, the stories of the US are being celebrated in a string of new museums this year.

This article was adapted from National Geographic Traveller (UK)

1. Africatown Heritage House, Mobile

The Alabama city made headlines in 2019 when the mouldering remains of the Clotilda – the last known ship to bring captive Africans into the US in the mid-19th century – were discovered in the Mobile River. Pieces of the vessel will be displayed at Africatown Heritage House, curated by the History Museum of Mobile, and will be preserved alongside West African objets d’art (the captive passengers were stolen from Benin) and exhibits sharing the story of Africatown, the community that formed after the ship reached the shore. It’s been a long time in the works, and the site will open July 8. 

Also worth trying… Roots 101 African American Museum, Louisville 

Lovingly curated by Louisville local Lamont Collins, Roots 101 is designed to enlighten visitors on the African-American experience. Highlights include a series of precious Benin bronzes, displays on sporting and music heroes (including Louisville-born Muhammad Ali) and objects from the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

2. Punk Rock Museum, Las Vegas

In many ways, Vegas is the perfect place to celebrate a movement hinged on non-compliant, anti-establishment ideals – this is Sin City after all. The museum, opened in January 2023 just outside the city’s Arts District, is tipped as the first of its kind, showcasing relics of the musical genre from clothing to instruments. You’ll find plenty of punk-themed treasures, from the “Vultures” T-shirt made famous by Debbie Harry to a saxophone belonging to the band Fear. Beyond the punk-rock curios, there’ll also be a dive bar with a raucous soundtrack, tattoo parlour and even a wedding chapel. 

Also worth trying… Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum

Tennessee swells with museums celebrating its musical heritage and this Smithsonian-pioneered venue is one of the finest. The museum explores Memphis’s integral role in the music industry, plotting genres from gospel to blues against a historical backdrop that includes slavery and the Civil Rights movement. 

3. The Museum of Broadway, New York 

Broadway is an essential part of New York’s cultural fabric and this new museum in the Theatre District takes a deep dive into the city’s theatrical heritage. Five years in the making, it finally opened in November 2022: swooping over three floors, it showcases elaborate costumes from big-hitters like Hamilton and The Phantom of the Opera as well as behind-the-scenes aspects such as set design, with fascinating models and sketches. There’s also a detailed timeline of Broadway history, putting retro productions like the Ziegfeld Follies in cultural context and whisking visitors up to the modern day. 

Also worth trying… Museum of Performance and Design, San Francisco 

This little-known museum focuses on performing arts in the Bay Area and houses a glittering store of costumes, recordings, playbills and artworks. Pore over costumes from the San Francisco Ballet, self-portraits by ballerina Anna Pavlova and intricate Chinese shadow puppets. 

4. Exhibition Hall and Collections Building at The Alamo, San Antonio

Spanish mission the Alamo is one of the most recognisable historic places in the USA. It preserves the story of the Texans’ bloody fight for independence, which saw them clash with Mexicans in the famous battle of 1836. And the site is about to get its first addition in decades. Set to open in March 2023, a new exhibition area will give more space to the existing Alamo Collection – whose artefacts include rifles and soldiers' jewellery – and take on a huge storehuge store of related objects from history enthusiast Phil Collins (yes, that Phil Collins). Newly donated items include a bronze cannon and the original battle orders from Mexican General López de Santa Anna.

Also worth trying… UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio

This Smithsonian-affiliated site offers up another piece of Texas’s cultural jigsaw. It’s dedicated to championing the many diverse people that make up the state and their culinary, artistic and musical contributions. The museum represents cultures from Mexico to the Canary Islands and festivals celebrate Asian heritage and Texan folklife, too. 

5. Palm Springs Modernism Museum, Palm Springs

A visit to this California desert city is like stepping back in time – there’s an enormous concentration of mid-century modern buildings, from vintage hotels to the palm tree-punctured City Hall. It’s only fitting, then, that there’s now an entire museum dedicated to the aesthetic, covering the period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Curated by vintage lover Tracy Turco and opened in October 2022, the museum is a glorious patchwork of mid-century furniture, screaming wallpaper and retro curios (think rotary-dial phones and neon signage). It’s designed to be fully immersive and ultra-photogenic. 

Also worth trying… Bliss House Museum, Portland

Tucked up in the well-to-do Nob Hill neighbourhood, the under-the-radar Bliss House Museum is a celebration of vintage fashion through the ages. Collector Betsy Warren holds more than 2,000 pieces, from intricately beaded cocktail dresses to feather-adorned hats, and they’re arranged among vintage vases and still-life paintings.

6. National Museum of Women in Arts, Washington, DC 

Millions have been spent on a facelift for the National Museum of Women in Arts, hailed as the first institution of its kind. Its mission is to advocate for female creators, and its 5,500-strong collection runs the gamut from European fine portrait painters and contemporary photographers to textile artists and taxidermists. Updates for this autumn will include a new reading room, plus bigger exhibition spaces and refreshed public programming areas. 

Also worth trying… Elizabeth A. Sackler Center For Feminist Art, New York 

You’ll find this cutting-edge space on the fourth floor of the Brooklyn Museum. The highlight is a gallery showcasing, The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago – this impressive installation features a giant triangular dinner table with place settings for 39 women, plus the names of 999 more inscribed in floor tiles. 

Published in the US Cities guide, distributed with the Jan/Feb 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK) 

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