Museums and art galleries in Southwest Florida

Beaches and sunsets aren’t the only awe-inspiring scenes on the Suncoast of Florida.

The Bradenton and Sarasota areas are home to an assortment of art galleries and museums full of wondrous sights of their own.

Southwest Florida boasts one of the state’s largest science museums, The Bishop, as well as the official state art museum of Florida, The Ringling.

Local galleries showcase everything from hometown art creators to world renowned pieces.

Ready to explore? Here’s a guide to the best places for taking in art, history, science, culture and more around Bradenton and Sarasota.

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A manatee swims at the Parker Aquarium Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat on June 10, 2021. Tiffany Tompkins [email protected]

The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature

Opened in 1947, The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature explores the past, present and future of Florida’s natural wonders.

Visitors can learn about the creatures that roamed the region during the Ice Age; discover the fascinating ecosystems unique to Florida; and see artifacts of the area’s original Native American inhabitants. The Bishop’s Pathways app allows people to connect to the science in new and unique ways with their smartphones.

The Bishop’s famed Planetarium hosts daily shows and special events that map out the universe with a state-of-the-art projection system.

The Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat is a temporary home to injured or sick manatees in treatment before they are released back into the wild. And the newest addition to the museum, the Mosaic Backyard Universe, is an indoor, science-themed play space or kids complete with a tree house, a turtle pond, a fossil dig pit and more.

The Bishop also displays temporary special exhibits in galleries on the first and second floor. Follow the museum’s website and social media for weekly and monthly family-friendly events such as Stelliferous, a live astronomy talk and Q&A with space experts in The Planetarium.

  • Details: Open Tue.-Sat. The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton. Ages 18-64: $23.95. Ages 65 and up: $21.95. Ages 12-17 and college students with ID: $17.95. Ages 5-11: $14.95. Ages 2-4: $8.95. Ages under 2: Free with paying adult.
  • Info: bishopscience.org or 941-746-4131

Family Heritage House Museum

Located at State College of Florida’s Bradenton campus, the Family Heritage House Museum celebrates African American history and culture in Manatee County and beyond.

Founded in 1990 by wife and husband Fredi Sears Brown and Ernest L. Brown Jr., the museum had humble beginnings in a donated trailer. Through an eventual partnership with Manatee Community College (now SCF), the museum was relocated to the college’s library in 2000 and then to SCF’s new Library and Learning Center in 2018. It now houses a gallery, a research library and a children’s room.

Inside, visitors will find “an array of artifacts, literature, local histories and other resources chronicling the history and cultural achievements of African Americans,” including items collected by the Browns during the civil rights movement.

  • Details: Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Thurs. and Mon., Fri. & Sat. by appointment. Located in the Library & Learning Center, Bld. 3 at SCF Bradenton, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton. Free; donations accepted.
  • Info: familyheritagehousemuseum.com or 941-752-5319

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The Florida Martime Museum in Cortez Bradenton Herald file photo

Florida Maritime Museum

Located in Cortez, one of Florida’s few remaining active fishing villages, the Florida Maritime Museum documents the age-old relationship between Floridians and the water. Visitors will find marine life displays, historical photos and documents, model boats, revolving exhibits and a gift shop.

Among the highlights: a large collection of shells and marine fossils gathered by late commercial fisherman and Cortezian Blake Banks. Permanent features on maritime navigation and boat building are also on display.

Rotating special exhibits have explored a wide range of maritime-related topics, including shipwrecks, diverse fishing cultures and the history of the U.S. Coast Guard in Florida. A current special exhibit looks at the state’s history with hurricanes.

On the second and fourth Saturday of each month, the museum hosts a “Music on the Porch” outdoor jam session. From 2-4 p.m., local pickers and players come together to share tunes and singalongs with the crowd.

Entry to the museum is always free, but donations are accepted.

  • Details: Open 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Florida Maritime Museum, 4415 119th St. W., Cortez. Free.
  • Info: floridamaritimemuseum.org or 941-708-6120

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People walk past the Carnegie Library during a historic walking tour of Palmetto. TIFFANY TOMPKINS [email protected]

Manatee County Agricultural Museum

Explore Manatee County’s rich agricultural past and present at the Manatee County County Agricultural Museum.

Permanent exhibits include displays of authentic farm tools and equipment and highlights of various crops and industries that have taken root in Manatee County over the decades. There’s also a revolving lineup of special exhibits to check out.

The museum hosts frequent displays of local art, including painting and nature photography.

  • Details: Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and on the first and third Saturday of each month. Manatee County Agricultural Museum, 1015 Sixth St. W., Palmetto. Free. Donations accepted.
  • Info: manateecountyagmuseum.com or 941-721-2034

Palmetto Historical Park

The Manatee County Agricultural Museum is in the grounds of the Palmetto Historical Park, where there’s even more history to see. The village is also home to the Carnegie Library. Built in 1914, it’s one of the oldest in South Florida and contains historical archives, photos, maps and more. The library is open during park hours.

The historical park also contains a school house, a chapel, a post office, a home museum and a military museum that can be seen with a free guided tour. The tours are offered at 2 p.m. each day the park is open.

The park hosts an annual heritage festival as well as Halloween and Christmas celebrations.

  • Details: Open 10 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and on the first and third Saturday of each month. Manatee County Agricultural Museum, 1015 Sixth St. W., Palmetto. Free. Donations accepted.

  • palmettohistoricalpark.com. 941-723-4991

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The Ringling offers free admission to the Museum of Art every Monday. The museums also participates in annual free museum days. Herald File Photo

The Ringling

The John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota offers a treasure trove of ancient, fine and contemporary art and stunning architecture.

See collections of Old World antiquities, European works from the Baroque period and modern and contemporary art; witness the colorful history of the big top in the Circus Museum; take a tour of the Ca’ d’Zan, a Mediterranean revival mansion; and stroll The Ringling’s 68 acres of waterfront grounds and gardens.

The Ringling’s art collection has earned it the title of the official state art museum of Florida. In addition to many European master oil painters, other galleries showcase traveling and regional exhibitions of contemporary art. The Center for Asian Art displays historical and modern art hailing from China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia.

Frequent events include talks, lectures and workshops as well as yoga and Tai Chi sessions on the museum grounds.

The Ringling is also home to the Historic Asolo Theater, an 18th century Italian theater reassembled and later restored in Florida that hosts frequent theater productions, concerts, film screenings and more.

  • Details: Open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. Ages 6-17: $5. Ages 18 and up: $25. Ages 65 and up: $23. Ca’ d’Zan entry $10 extra. Admission to the Museum of Art and grounds is always free on Mondays.
  • Info: ringling.org or 941-359-5700.

Sarasota Art Museum

Operated by Ringling College of Art and Design, the Sarasota Art Museum displays revolving exhibits of contemporary artwork.

The museum is housed in the former Sarasota High School building and offers 15,000 square feet of gallery space to showcase paint, sculpture, photography, furniture making, experimental art and more.

Events at the museum include curator and artist talks, live jazz every second Thursday of the month and free entry and family fun on the second Sunday of each month.

Visitors can also enjoy a gift shop and a bistro.

Other local museums to explore

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ArtCenter Manatee hosts frequent exhibits of local and regional art. Take a piece of local art home from the gallery’s Artists’ Market. Tiffany Tompkins [email protected]

ArtCenter Manatee

ArtCenter Manatee is a decades-long hub of community arts in Bradenton.

The nonprofit center features three full galleries with rotating art exhibits. The jury-selected exhibitions feature artists working in many media forms, including painting, sculpture, jewelry and woodworking. Visiting exhibits from national and regional watercolor societies fill the center’s galleries with beautiful visions splashed out in color.

The art center is home to five classrooms and offers instruction from beginner to advanced levels in media including paint, drawing, pottery, jewelry-making and glass; art center members can access open studio times for pottery and jewelry-making.

ArtCenter Manatee events throughout the year include several art sales, a holiday display of locally-made Christmas ornaments and artist workshops, as well as a Fine Arts Festival held on the Bradenton Riverwalk.

  • Details: Gallery hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon., Fri. and Sat.; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue., Wed. and Thurs. ArtCenter Manatee, 209 Ninth St. W., Bradenton. Free.
  • Info: artcentermanatee.org.

Art Center Sarasota

This community art center and nonprofit in Sarasota is home to four galleries showcasing local, regional and visiting art exhibits in many media forms. There’s also a sculpture garden to explore on the museum grounds with a variety of styles on display.

Art classes, workshops with visiting and local artists, youth events and instruction and a book club are among the frequent events at the art center. There are also open studio time offerings for local artists.

  • Details: Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon-5 p.m. Saturday. Art Center Sarasota, 707 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Free.
  • Info: artsarasota.org

Artists Guild Gallery

The display space of the Artists Guild of Anna Maria Island, this colorful gallery showcases locally created works in painting, photography, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, prints and more. There’s also a sampling of books by local writers.

The guild hosts a monthly featured artist series in its gallery as well as online instruction in various media forms. Members can enjoy additional arts programming and talks.

The guild also organizes open-air painting sessions at scenic spots around Manatee County.

Many pieces in the gallery are offered for sale. A nonprofit, the Artists Guild funds local arts education initiatives, including scholarships for Manatee County students pursuing the arts.

  • Details: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Artists Guild Gallery, 5414 Marina Dr., Holmes Beach. Free.
  • Info: amiartistsguildgallery.com

Village of the Arts Artwalk
The Village of the Arts monthly Artwalk features live music and an abundance of food and local art. Herald file photo

Village of the Arts

While not a traditional gallery, the Village of the Arts in Bradenton is a unique community of artists whose homes are studio and display spaces for a diverse array of work.

In the Village, visitors can fin artists working in folk, outsider and fine art, woodworking, jewelry, sculpture and much more.

Each business has its own hours of operation. Visit the Village of the Arts website for a detailed schedule of gallery openings.

The Village spans Ninth Avenue West to 17th Avenue West and 14th Street West to Ninth Street West. Street parking is available in select areas throughout the Village, or in the public parking garage at 12th Street West and Eighth Avenue West (free on weekends).

Ryan Ballogg is a news reporter and features writer at the Bradenton Herald. Since joining the paper in 2018, he has received awards for features, art and environmental writing in the Florida Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism Competition. Ryan is a Florida native and graduated from University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
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