Columbus Museum of Art & the Topiary Garden

What to do on a dreary Sunday in Columbus when you are on a budget?  The Columbus Museum of Art, of course! It’s free on Sundays and a great indoor activity.  And with street parking free on Sundays, it’s also a good time to see some of the downtown sites while you’re there.

We decided to see the Topiary Park while we were downtown for the museum.  These two sites are about a 5 minute walk apart, so it is easy to park near the museum and walk over to check out the park.

The Topiary Park

This 7-acre park is nestled on the corner of East Town Street & South Washington Avenue.   Originally known as the Old Deaf School Park, this space has been around since the early 19th century – first as part of the Deaf School and later as a bit of an eyesore.  In 1992, James T. Mason’s creation based on Georges Seurat’s famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatte, was completed and dedicated; creating a lovely park in the center of downtown.

At the small brick building, which houses a gift shop, you will find some printed versions of the self-guided tour.  I recommend going to the web site ahead of time and printing off the information to take with you.   Or, just wing it like we did.

Follow the path up to the top of the small hill to see a bronze version of the famous panting and compare it to the topiary scene in front of you. Then enjoy a walk around the park to see the various figures as well as some old trees and landscaping.

I’m working on improving my photography skills and using my SLR camera, so we spent time playing with photos as we walked around.  Then we headed off to the art museum.

Art Museum

The museum added a 50,000 square foot wing in 2016.  This expansion opens up the space quite a bit, making free Sundays feel less like a mad house.

We started our tour by going straight up the stairs in the entrance area and exploring the more contemporary works in the galleries to the left.

These open spaces are bright and airy and hold a variety of sculptures, paintings, and other installations.  While we are certainly not art connoisseurs, we do enjoy talking about the art we are seeing.  For our family, this is often more of a silly discussion than an educated debate over what the artist’s intention was.  You do you.  We especially enjoyed this image which changes when you take a flash photo of it (NOTE: this is the only piece of art you are allowed to photograph with your flash on.  Otherwise you can photograph about anything you want with no flash.)

After wandering around the contemporary galleries, we headed over to the older part of the museum to see the more classic works.  The galleries in the older section are organized into different styles of work (Folk art, expressionism, photography, etc.).  We got a bit hungry at this point and headed back downstairs to the cafe.

If you’ve not been here before, take a moment before heading down to go to Mel Chin’s Spirit installation.  It’s something to see!

The Schokko Art Cafe

The cafe in the museum is operated by Cameron Mitchell Premier Events – prepare your wallet accordingly.  If you are on a budget, I suggest skipping this feature.  However, the do sell alcohol and it is a good place for a break.  If the weather is nice, there is seating outside in the sculpture garden where you can enjoy a glass of wine and smaller children can move about a bit more freely.

The First Floor

If you do have smaller kids with you, the first floor of the museum offers more kid friendly activities.  The Wonder Room has hands-on art exhibits and space for the kids to run around and explore.  When we were there, this area was closed for re-installation.  However it reopened to the public on October 28, 2017.

Final Thoughts

When I take my kids to an art museum, I set my expectation at “enjoy time with the kids” not “see lots of art”.  Even as teenagers, their tolerance for walking from art piece to art piece and discussing it is low.  To avoid frustration all around, I let them set the pace.  If I want to see an exhibit, and they are not interested, I go back another time on my own or with a friend.   However, I do also believe exposing them to works of art is important for their education.  The Columbus Museum of Art offers a good selection of art to explore and expose them to without overwhelming anyone.

The Topiary Park and the Columbus Museum made for a great afternoon outing for us.  It was close, easy, and (if we didn’t stop for a snack) free!

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