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Experience Arts and Culture At Museums in Kansas City

Museums serve as a window into the past for reflection, appreciation, and learning. The arts inform the culture and history of their time period and are a staple of historical education. Likewise, Kansas City has much to offer in the way of arts and culture.

Union Station is one of Kansas City’s oldest and most storied monuments. The exhibits and installations inside tell the stories of the railroad, our city, and the people who experienced it. Connect with KC and our culture with recommendations for events and museums in Kansas City from Union Station:

Nelson-Atkins Museum

One of the earliest museums in Kansas City, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art was founded in the 1930’s. It was made possible by the estates of two prominent Kansas City trustees committed to building the cultural and artistic landscape of the city, even after their passing. The earliest added depression era pieces in the now expansive 42,000-work collection still hang today.

Staying true to its values, the Nelson-Atkins is and always has been a free museum welcoming all art lovers to experience and learn together. In addition to guided tours and rotating exhibitions , the museum is also a cultural center for people to take classes , try new skills, and celebrate with festivals all year round.

American Jazz Museum

You like jazz? Based in the historic 18th and Vine jazz district in downtown Kansas City, the American Jazz Museum is dedicated to showcasing the art of jazz through interactive exhibits, music lessons, community events, and more.

The museum welcomes thousands of fans, students, and performers, providing the community with an opportunity to learn about the legends and honor their history since 1997. They also host over 200 performances each year to celebrate the sounds of modern jazz music.

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is one of the most highly acclaimed museums in Kansas City. Their permanent collection of modern and contemporary artwork is rapidly growing since their opening in 1994 and features artwork from all over the world. Mediums range from textiles and sculpture to film and video.

The Kemper museum also offers a host of unique ways to experience their collection through both in-person and virtual tours , as well as programs for all ages, youth and family to adults .

Union Station

Union Station is Kansas City’s living history. It’s a destination to preserve, showcase, and celebrate what makes our city storied and unique. Each of the artifacts, exhibits, installations, and activities serves our mission to create lasting memories and inspire lifelong learning as a museum in Kansas City.

Model trains

Union Station’s prized model train gallery spans millions of scale miles and is the home to over 80 running engines every day. Its historic design is a recreation of the station yards and built to capture the history of the Kansas City railroad with vintage railroad artifacts, motion graphics, and projections.

There will always be something new to see when visiting the model railroad gallery—one more building, one more crossing, one more mountainside, or tree to plant. That is the fascination with this intricate display and gem of Union Station’s museum area.

photo of Union Station's model train gallery museum in Kansas City

Touring exhibitions

Each year, Union Station selects a new world-class touring exhibit to feature in our Bank of America Gallery. Exhibitions topics vary, but all align with our mission to inspire lifelong learning and preserve history.

Notable past exhibitions include the Discovery of King Tut , Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away ., and Maya: the Great Jaguar Rises .

Each of these exhibits are carefully selected and highly anticipated across the globe. Union Station is Kansas City’s historical home and works alongside museums in Kansas City to curate opportunities for experiential learning that leaves an impact.

Union Station Stories: permanent installations

Union Station is passionate about preserving and celebrating our history as a living Kansas City monument. Some of our recent projects include curating permanent installations within the station of historical artifacts from our past.

Step into the past as you walk the footsteps of thousands of travelers and experience Union Station Stories :

Shoe Shiners Exhibit

In the golden years of railroad travel, a man’s status could be measured by the shine of his shoes. Many young men in Kansas City and across the country made an honest living shining shoes in Union Station and other travel hubs. Learn more about their trade and the secrets that came with it at the Shoe Shiners Exhibit .

Haverty Railroad Gallery

The Haverty Railroad Gallery features a series of 12 paintings by artist Richard Allison, which symbolize the 12 railroads that came together to build Union Station in 1906. The storied art shows significant attention to detail and a style of realism that can only come from direct observation.

RPO: The Romance of Rail and Mail Exhibit

The Romance of Rail and Mail Exhibit features tools, stories, videos, and more from the railroad post office days. Kansas City served as a major hub in the Railway Mail Service network and helped pioneer the technology innovations that would form the foundation for today’s shipping and logistics industry.

artifact from the RPO exhibit at Union Station museums in Kansas City

Arabia Steamboat Museum

Share a little piece of history with your children or friends at the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City. In 1856, the Steamboat Arabia sank in the Missouri River near Kansas City. Lost for 132 years, the boat was recovered in 1988 along with an impressive collection of artifacts.

During your visit, you’ll hear the legendary story of the loss and recovery of the Steamboat Arabia and its 200 tons of cargo. Tours through the collection are self-guided with a series of short, informational videos walking you through the history of digging up the Arabia.

WWI Museum and Memorial

Learn more about one of our nation’s most significant events through the most comprehensive collection of artifacts at the National WWI Museum and Memorial . In addition to showcasing the impactful history of the war, the history of the Liberty Memorial is quite exceptional as well.

Soon after the war ended, the people of Kansas City raised money of their own to construct a memorial to honor the soldiers who fought and sacrificed their lives. In 1921, all five supreme Allied leaders gathered for the very first time in history to dedicate the Liberty Memorial.

Today, the memorial lawn remains a significant place to honor our nation’s history, as well as a place for families and communities to gather in celebration.

KC United Art Festival

The KC United Art Festival is hosted by the WWI Museum and Memorial annually in October. It’s a celebration of both local artists and veteran artists together with art available for purchases, as well as food trucks, live music, and community.

The event is put on and raises funds for Monkey Brain Art , a Kansas City-based organization that helps veterans use art creation, meditation, and mindfulness to combat their PTSD and war-related trauma. Monkey Brain hosts classes year round in art and meditation for all ages.

Art and cultural events in Kansas City

The impact of the museums in Kansas City extends far beyond their gallery grounds. There are many events year round that honor and celebrate Kansas City arts and culture:

Celebration at the Station

Celebration at the Station , an annual Memorial Day event, features an impressive, patriotic performance from the KC Symphony . If you’re looking for a family friendly event to commemorate our nation’s heroes for the holiday, join us on the Union Station lawn.

The celebration also includes performances from other area artists like singers and musicians, and a grand fireworks display at the end of the evening. During the holiday weekend, surrounding museums like the National WWI Museum and Memorial also host special exhibitions in commemoration.

The KC Ballet

The Kansas City Ballet , directed by Devon Carney and comprising 30 dancers, holds the title of resident company at the world-class Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts . The corps perform multiple times throughout the year, including their rendition of the ever-popular Nutcracker during the winter season.

photo of a dancer performing in the Nutcracker ballet with the KC Ballet

First Fridays

On the First Friday of every month during the summer, people gather in the Crossroads District to enjoy local artwork, street vendors, galleries, food trucks, and more! Explore all the local fun and flair of the city with your family or friends on foot, or take the KC streetcar.

The Crossroads and West Bottoms districts of Kansas City have become synonymous with art since their inception. Today, this area is full of hundreds of talented artists sharing and showcasing their work across a variety of disciplines from tattooing to fine art collecting.

3rd Friday Art Walk

The 3rd Friday Art Walk is a monthly event that aims to bring together local artists, pop-up shops, and local stores to share in art exhibits, food, performances, and more. The walk is about a mile long up 6th street to Minnesota Avenue.

Artists are assigned a location along the route outside a participating business and can set up stands to share their art or homemade goods. Enjoy the community and try something new!

Holiday reflections

Union Station’s magical “ Holiday Reflections ” walk-thru holiday village is one of the city’s favorite artistic displays. This spectacular themed experience fills Union Station’s massive Grand Plaza and features sky-reaching lights, dozens of decorated trees, forest friends, and giant, floating ornaments.

Kids can ride the historic Jones Store Train through the exhibition for a polar express experience just like the movie. Immerse yourself in the holiday spirit with brilliant sights and sounds at Kansas City’s historic home.

Plaza Art Fair

As Kansas City’s unofficial welcome to the fall season for nearly 100 years, the Plaza Art Fair is an unmatched national art event. With three live music stages and over 20 featured restaurant booths, hundreds of thousands of Kansas Citians gather every year to celebrate art and one another.

The fair takes place across 9 city blocks around the Plaza area and features over 200 artists and 3 live music stages. The Plaza Arts Fair takes museums in Kansas City outdoors and is a weekend full of great artists, musicians, restaurants, and company.

Kansas City Grand Poetry Slam

Kansas City Poetry Slam organization hosts monthly, elimination style poetry events at Blip Roasters where poets are scored by judges an d must qualify to move on to the next round of performances. Qualifying poets are then asked to compete at the annual Grand Slam in April.

Outside of performances, the organization also comes together for writing workshops, open mic nights, and more. Come get creative!

Outdoor events at Powell Gardens

Powell Gardens is Kansas City’s stunning botanical garden and living museum. It’s a city center for outdoor exploration and plant appreciation. Many cherished annual events are held here and celebrate Kansas City culture!

family at a garden enjoying outdoor museums in Kansas City

Festival of Butterflies

The Festival of Butterflies has been around for over 25 years, inviting nature-lovers from across KC to celebrate our city’s most prolific pollinator. Friends and family gather every year in July at the Powell Gardens to follow the Butterfly Meadow path through the grounds.

The festival also features a conservatory tour, catch and release meadow, and a personality test to learn which butterfly is your match! This beloved Kansas City tradition is perfect for families with younger children, or for bringing out the child is us all.

Festival of Lights

The Festival of Lights is another family event at Powell Gardens that you won’t want to miss. Beginning in November and on display through the end of December, this festive spectacle is the perfect event to transition from fall to the holiday season.

The display of colorful, botanical-themed lights is set up around a mile-long path through the gardens and includes many photo-worthy spots along the way.

Kansas City Fountain Day

Another hallowed Kansas City tradition happens annually on April 19th: Fountain Day . Fun fact, Kansas City is affectionately called the “city of fountains,” and is said to have more fountains than Rome!

Every year in April, people gather at one of the city’s Hallmark fountains and celebrate the re-opening of all fountains for the coming spring and summer seasons. Nearly 50 fountains come back to life across the city, and a new Kansas Citian is honored by the KC Park System.

Experience Museums in Kansas City with Union Station

Looking for an enriching, entertaining experience for you and your friends and family? Visit one of the fascinating cultural events and museums in Kansas City, starting with Union Station . Plan your visit today!