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10 Spectacular Outdoor Art Museums to Explore Right Now

With art lovers wary about lingering indoors, outdoor art museums finally have their moment in the sun.

As the COVID pandemic continues to rage, many Americans are rightfully heeding the advice to avoid congregating indoors for long periods of time. But health experts have advised that social distancing outdoors in masks is one of the safest options outside of your own home. Fortunately, for art lovers who long to gaze at inspiring works of art, there is no shortage of outdoor public art projects across the nation. Though temperatures are dropping, you can still bundle up and stroll through parks filled with playful murals, avant-garde sculptures, and colorful art installations.

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Topiary Park

WHERE: Columbus, Ohio

If one of your new quarantine hobbies is tirelessly searching for landscape architecture that mimics an impressionist painting, then look no further than Topiary Park in Ohio. Local sculpture artist and landscape architect James T. Mason transformed this seven-acre downtown park into George Seurat’s famous painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte. Feel like you are walking through the painting as you meander around the plant version of 54 people, eight boats, three dogs, a monkey, and a cat. Not too surprisingly, it is the only known park dedicated to the horticultural recreation of a painting in the world.

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Art Omi Sculpture & Architecture Park

WHERE: Ghent, New York

Bizarre sculptures, experimental architecture, and larger-than-life animals are spread across 300 acres here in the Hudson Valley. Enjoy the brisk autumn air while walking two miles of unpaved paths that meander through wetlands, pastures, and forests. Fall foliage from the surrounding Catskills adds as a bonus colorful backdrop to the 60 contemporary art installations. The park is open daily, free of charge.

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Texas Tech’s Public Art Collection

WHERE: Lubbock, Texas

Texas Tech University in Lubbock is home to one of the best public arts collections in the nation. The university dedicates one percent of the budget for every new capital project to commission high-quality pieces of art resulting in more than 100 murals, sculptures, and paintings throughout campus.

Certain pieces fit what one would think of in a west Texas college campus like Deborah Butterfield’s bronze statue of a horse or Peter Mangan’s steel and fused glass sculpture of a Red Tail Hawk. Other pieces, like the abstract painted aluminum Astrolabe sculpture, look like they belong in a big city contemporary art museum.

The art walk is open to the public for free. The university’s public art department created an app—ArtTrek—to digitally guide those unfamiliar with the campus.

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The Heidelberg Project

WHERE: Detroit, Michigan

Polka-dotted houses, gutted television sets, stuffed animals wired to power polls, and a ludicrous amount of clocks, The Heidelberg Project in Detroit is not your normal art walk. In 1986, local artist Tyree Guytong returned to his childhood neighborhood to find it decaying. He began transforming a block of abandoned houses into a whimsical, ever-evolving public art project. Starting with his childhood home—now referred to as the Dotty Wotty House—the project consists of 22 individual projects that span a neighborhood block.

The Heidelberg Project is now a nonprofit with the mission of transforming neighborhoods through art. About 200,000 visitors a year stop by the wander Heidelberg Street. In-person tours are not being conducted at this time because of social-distancing measures, but visitors who want more information on the project can download the Heidelberg Project App.

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The Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art

WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana

This outdoor gem is a combination of art and landscape. You won’t forget that you are in the Big Easy as you walk through 200-year-old live oak trees dripping with moss, lagoons filled with swamp lilies, and sweet-smelling magnolia trees. The 11-acre sculpture garden sits on the edge of New Orleans City Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country.

More than 60 artists created the 96 sculptures throughout the park. Several artists incorporated the environment into their pieces. One of the best examples of this is Teresita Fernández’s 60-foot mosaic wall which uses blue and green tiles to create a landscape within a landscape.

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The San Juan Island Sculpture Park

WHERE: Friday Harbor, Washington

Get your art fill while distancing yourself from not only other people, but also from the mainland at one of the largest outdoor sculpture parks in the Pacific Northwest. The San Juan Island Sculpture Park in Washington is surrounded by the Salish Sea. Art lovers must take a boat or plane to arrive at the San Juan Islands. Once they do, they will discover more than 150 sculptures scattered around a 20-acre park with five self-guided trails. Art is ever-changing as sculptures are rotated out every two years. After the art walk, stick around the islands for wildlife watching as orcas, humpback whales, and sea lions are frequently spotted off the coast.

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Murals Art Philadelphia

WHERE: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Artists in Philadelphia embrace the concept that every wall is a blank canvass. Mural Arts Philadelphia is the nation’s largest public arts program. Since 1984 Mural Arts artists have created more than 3,600 murals on sides of abandoned brick buildings, warehouses, businesses, and virtually every other blank space around the city. Murals are consistently updated to reflect the times and new artistic visions. Artists have added masks to faces in half a dozen of the murals. The nonprofit outlines several mural tours on its website for visitors to explore on foot or bike.

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Kentuck Knob Sculpture Garden

WHERE: Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania

Architecture buffs know it as the location for Frank Lloyd Wright’s hexagon Usonian house, but art aficionados come for the estate’s sculpture garden located at the bottom of the hill. Set along the woodlands of Western Pennsylvania, leaf peepers looking for modern art sculptures set in front of vibrant fall colors are in luck. The artsy stroll along the Woodland Walking Tour will take you by 30 sculptures from modern artists such as Wendy Taylor and Sir Anthony Caro.

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The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center

WHERE: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Artists, environmentalists, park planners, and landscape architects all came together to create the crown jewel of Minneapolis’s park system. The free urban sculpture park spans 11 acres next door to the Walker Art Center. The Spoonbridge and Cherry, a 52-by-30-foot sculpture of a teaspoon and a cherry displayed in the garden’s pond, might be the garden’s most iconic piece, but the relatively new Hahn/Cock, a 20-foot blue rooster, is not far behind.

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Cadillac Ranch

WHERE: Amarillo, Texas

Road trips seem to be the safest way to travel during the time of coronavirus. If you are planning a trip along America’s iconic Route 66, be sure to stop by the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo. The kitschy, roadside attraction consists of 10 Cadillacs buried nose down at the same angle as the Great Pyramids. In 1972, an area billionaire financed the public arts project to pay homage to the Cadillac tail fin. While not a part of the original design, visitors are now encouraged to add some color with one of the spray paint cans lying around the classic cars. These days, however, you might want to bring your own spray paint to ensure the can is germ-free.