Houston is internationally recognized as a performing and visual arts mecca with hundreds of institutions across the region dedicated to artistic expression through a multitude of mediums. Whether you're looking for a night at the theater or an afternoon exploring one of the city's many museums, here's a guide to some of the leading organizations setting the tone for artistic expression in the nation's most diverse city.
Cited by the New York Times as “one of the nation’s best ballet companies,” the Houston Ballet is also one of the largest in the United States. The ensemble of more than 50 dancers performs around the world and treats Houston’s ballet aficionados to more than 100 performances a year in the Wortham Center. Visit website.
An integral part of the local arts scene since 1913, the Houston Symphony performs more than 170 concerts a year at Jones Hall, Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park, and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. Visit website.
One of the nation’s largest opera companies, Houston Grand Opera is internationally recognized for its innovative repertoire that blends the classics with contemporary works and world premieres. Houston Grand Opera is the only opera company in the nation to win two Grammy awards, a Tony, and two Emmys. Visit website.
Founded in 1987, Da Camera brings together leading American and international musicians. It is nationally acclaimed for provocative chamber music, contemporary music and an annual jazz series that showcases renowned performers and emerging artists. Other musical offerings in Houston are performed by such groups as the Houston Friends of Music, the Houston Masterworks Chorus, the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston, and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. Visit website.
Houston’s rich theatrical tradition began in 1947 with the opening of the Alley Theatre in, literally, an alley. Today the Alley is one of only a few professional theaters in the country to employ its own resident company of actors. Performances are year-round in the Alley’s two-theater complex—the 824-seat Hubbard Stage and the 310-seat Neuhaus Stage. Visit website.
Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), one of the largest nonprofit producers of musical theater in the country, has cast more than 300 musicals in its 45-year history to national acclaim. TUTS stages Broadway classics, world premieres and new works at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts downtown—also home to Broadway in Houston, featuring touring productions of Broadway hits. Visit website.
Society for the Performing Arts (SPA), founded in 1966, is the largest nonprofit presenting organization of its kind in the Southwest. SPA presents internationally acclaimed artists from the entire performing arts spectrum, traditional to avant-garde alike, from large orchestras and dance companies to recitalists and solo performers. SPA provides affordable opportunities to discover and develop creativity on and off the stage through diverse educational and community programs and cultural partnerships. Visit website.
Asia Society Texas Center, opened in 2012, houses the 273- seat Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater, the Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery and more. One of only 13 Asia Society locations throughout the world, the center serves as an Asia-Pacific educational and cultural institution in the region. Visit website.
Founded in 2001, the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum is the only U.S. museum dedicated to preserving the legacy and honor of the African-American soldiers that served on behalf of the United States of America. Visit website.
The Contemporary Arts Museum is a museum for visual arts focusing on international, national, and regional art of the last 40 years. And the Menil Collection displays an immensely significant private collection of nearly 16,000 works dating from the Paleolithic period to present day. Visit website.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science features more than a dozen permanent exhibit areas showcasing space science, Native Americans, paleontology, energy, chemistry, gems and minerals, seashells, Texas and African wildlife, and ancient Egyptian culture. Included within the museum are the Wortham IMAX Theatre, the Cockrell Butterfly Center and the Burke Baker Planetarium. The museum’s satellite facility, the George Observatory, is located in Brazos Bend State Park, southwest of the city. It houses the largest telescope available for public viewing in the Houston area. Visit website.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), which opened in 1924 as the first art museum in Texas, has a collection of more than 56,000 works. Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, the restored mansion of Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg, houses decorative arts and contains one of the finest collections of American furniture, paintings, glass, and textiles from 1620 to 1870. Another home, Rienzi, donated to MFAH by Houston philanthropists Harris Masterson III and his wife, Carroll Sterling Masterson, holds the Southwest’s most important collection of European decorative art, including ceramics, furniture, paintings, and sculpture. Visit website.
Children’s Museum of Houston, founded in 1980, is ranked as the number one children’s museum in the U.S. by Parents Magazine. Families from 31 countries, all 50 states and 905 Texas cities have visited the Children’s Museum of Houston. The museum receives nearly 800,000 visits annually, has hands-on galleries and offers a multitude of exhibits and programs for children through age 12. Visit website.
The Czech Center Museum Houston, opened in 1996, is dedicated to the exploration and preservation of Czech and Slovak heritage, including art, music and dance. The center features a wide array of cultural events, film screenings, art exhibitions and lectures. Visit website.
DiverseWorks, founded in 1982, presents and commissions new visual performing and literary art. With a year-round schedule of exhibitions, performances and community programs, DiverseWorks is a leader in the nationwide movement of artist-centered organizations. Visit website.
Opened in 1996, Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, honoring the survivors’ legacy and remembering the six million Jews and other innocent victims who died in concentration camps in WWII. The museum recently underwent a $34 million expansion, and its new 57,000-square-foot Lester and Sue Smith Campus is now the fourth largest Holocaust museum in the nation. Visit website.
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, founded in 2001, is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to advancing education about the process, product and history of craft – it is one of the few venues in the country dedicated exclusively to craft at the highest level. Visit website.
Houston Center for Photography, founded in 1981, brings together a community of people interested in photography and lens-based work. The center offers a gallery and a library with over 4,000 books. In addition, the center provides more than 300 photography classes and workshops annually. Visit website.
The Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC), established in ’12, exhibits the material and intellectual culture of Africans and African Americans in Houston, the state of Texas, the Southwest and the African Diaspora. Visit website.
The Houston Zoo seeks to provide a fun and inspirational experience fostering appreciation, knowledge and care for the natural world. Currently there are over 6,000 animals attracting more than 2 million guests each year. Visit website.
The Health Museum, founded in 1996, is an interactive science center and a member institution of the world-renowned Texas Medical Center. With over 2.5 million visitors, the museum is the most visited health museum in the country. In ’17, the museum was named a Smithsonian Affiliate.
The Jung Center of Houston was founded in 1958 in honor of Carl Gustav Jung, the revolutionary psychologist. The center displays new art exhibits each month and offers more than 200 classes annually. Much of the featured artwork is generated by local and regional artists. Visit website.
Lawndale Art Center, founded in 1979, is one of the only institutions in Houston that is dedicated to the presentation of contemporary art with an emphasis on work by regional artists. Visit website.
The Menil Collection, opened in 1987, features a highly acclaimed collection of some 17,000 works of art, including masterpieces from antiquity, the Byzantine and the tribal cultures of Oceania. The museum has one of the world’s foremost collections of Surrealist holdings. In 2018, the museum underwent six months of renovations, reopening in fall 2018. Visit website.
The Moody Center for the Arts, located at Rice University, serves as an experimental platform for creating and presenting art works. The 50,000-square-foot facility newly constructed in ’17 for $30 million features a striking contemporary design with bold geometric shapes. In ’17, the Moody received a Design Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects, California Council. Visit website.
The Rothko Chapel, founded in 1971, is a non-denominational place of meditation and reflection that welcomes over 100,000 visitors each year. The chapel contains 14 canvases by the painter Mark Rothko and is lit only by skylight. The chapel’s plaza contains an obelisk in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visit website.
A.D. Players, founded in 1967, is one of Houston’s largest resident theater companies, which produces plays and programs from a Christian world-view that engage a diverse audience. The A.D. Players offered five mainstage shows and four children’s theater performances for the ’17–’18 season. In ’17, the company moved to its new $18-million, 35,000-square-foot theater with seating for 440. Visit website.
Ensemble Theatre, located in Midtown and established in 1976, is one of the only professional theaters in the Southwest devoted to preserving African-American artistic expression. Ensemble Theatre is one of the nation’s largest African American theatres owning and operating its own facility and producing in-house. The theatre offers six contemporary and classical works annually, a Performing Arts Education Program and a Young Performers Program. Visit website.
Main Street Theater (MST) founded in 1975, produces professional, engaging productions based on children’s literature in-house and on tour around Texas. MST also offers Education and Outreach programs on-site and at locations throughout the Houston region. Numerous world premieres have been presented by MST. Visit website.
Stages Repertory Theatre founded in 1978, presents plays and musicals on two stages – the 171-seat Yeager Theater and the 229-seat Arena Theater. With an average of 12 productions per year and more than 380 performances, Stages welcomes 65,000 visitors each season. Stages will move to a new three-theatre campus called The Gordy in the ’19–’20 season. Visit website.
Space Center Houston, the $75-million Disney-designed visitors’ center for Johnson Space Center, opened in 1992 and attracts more than one million visitors per year. It features an IMAX theater, live demonstrations, Apollo, Mercury and Gemini capsules, a space suit collection and one of the largest collection of moon rocks. Visit website.
The San Jacinto Monument and Museum of History, located at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, features artifacts and documents covering four centuries of Texas history. This 1,200-acre site is also a National Historic Landmark and consists of the San Jacinto battleground, the monument with observation floor, the museum of history and Battleship Texas. Visit website.
Orange Show Center for Visionary Art is a nonprofit organization founded in 1980 that preserves, promotes and documents visionary art environments. The center has been the producer of the annual Houston Car Parade for the past 25 years. Visit website.
The Heritage Society operates ten historic buildings that date from 1823 to 1905, which the organization authentically restored and moved to Sam Houston Park. Together with the Museum Gallery, these buildings serve as historic reference points and exhibition spaces for more than 23,000 artifacts that document life in historic Houston. Visit website.
Fort Bend Art Center, opened in ’18 and is a multi-arts center with fine artwork by more than 30 member artists on display and for sale. With two galleries, the art center functions as a shared-space for artists and art enthusiasts to create, exhibit and experience art. Visit website.
Bryan Museum, located in the historic Galveston Orphans Home, opened in ’15 and houses one of the world’s largest collections of historical artifacts, documents and artwork relating to Texas and the American West. The museum also has a library and an archive. Visit website.
Texas Seaport Museum is home to the 1877 tall ship Elissa, a National Historic Landmark that has also been designated as an American Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The museum displays information on seaborn commerce and immigration, including a database containing names of over 133,000 immigrants who entered the U.S. through Galveston. Visit website.