American Visionary Arts Museum
Dan Meyers

Celebrate the Local Arts Scene

By Mary Anne Treger

From historic towns to thriving cities with contemporary local

vibes, celebrate arts and culture in every corner of the state.

American Visionary Arts Museum
Dan Meyers

Maryland is alive with a vibrant arts scene that embodies its rich local heritage and history. Monumental words depicting events in America’s past, arts dedicated to famous figures in history, and modern, only-in-MD touches capture the excitement between extensive art exhibitions for all ages and a roaring Summer of Music.


The grande dame of Maryland museums, the Baltimore Museum of Art is called a “temple of art,” since the building is just as impressive as the contents. More than 95,000 works of art—from contemporary to classical—reside alongside the world’s largest collection of work by Henri Matisse. Award-winning Gertrude’s restaurant is located inside the museum for prime summer seating in an adjoining sculpture garden.

The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore showcases works created by self-taught artists plus sculpture plazas and a wildflower garden. Each May, their annual Race of Human-Powered Art is a wacky, wonderful hodgepodge of amphibious kinetic sculptures. These custom-built, land-and-sea sculptures are designed to travel through the streets and over deep Inner Harbor waters. Only human-powered art is allowed (positively no engines!) for the most ingenious display.

Maryland Historical Society Museum houses an eclectic (some might say “odd”) and interesting mix of treasures. Just look out for Nipper, a four-ton dog who sits atop the historic building. This Baltimore museum and library houses a statue of King Gambrinus, the “patron saint” of beer, Eubie Blake’s practice piano, a replica of one of the first mastodons excavated in the U.S., plus thousands of paintings, porcelains, textiles and silver, all showcasing everything Maryland. Look for Francis Scott Key’s original manuscript of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” too—oh say, can you see?

Housed in a grand Italian-style palazzo, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore dazzles with its marble entry and elegant and eclectic exhibits. Kids ooh and aah at the sight of an Egyptian mummy and enough shining armor to clad a regiment of knights. Rooms are filled with Greek sculpture, medieval ivory, plenty of Old Master paintings and an intriguing Asian collection. It feels like you’re roaming a private estate instead of a free city museum.

Would you like to see former President Obama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks? You can—in wax—at The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, the first wax museum in the nation showcasing African-American history through significant men and women from past to present. More than 100 wax figures and exhibits tell the story of the 400-year history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. See a life-size re-creation of the dark belly of a slave ship, a moving experience.


Wear your walking shoes and go wild at Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury, where you’ll find over 2,500 antique and contemporary wood carvings displayed in eight galleries. The lifelike wildlife sculptures are so realistic, they are often mistaken for “real” ducks, but no taxidermy is used in this museum.

At Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center in Dowell, sculptures weave through the forest and immerse the aesthetically curious in a one-of-a-kind art experience among the trees and natural scenes. Explore the indoor museum, outdoor gallery and fairy garden on your trip to this beautiful locale in Southern Maryland. For an awe-inspiring work of modern art and architectural design, see the sleek exterior of Montgomery County’s Glenstone Museum. This free museum in Potomac holds a contemporary gallery, larger-than-life works around the sculpture garden and embodies the evolution of a minimalist architectural style from the last century.

One of the finest small museums in the nation, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown hosts a diverse collection of more than 6,500 paintings, prints, sculpture and decorative arts. The collection reflects the founders’ cosmopolitan worldview with a range of works and includes fine Old Master paintings along with Modernism in America. Nearby Boonsboro is home to Nora Roberts, one of America’s favorite novelists. Several times a year, she hosts multi-author book signings at her local bookstore, Turn the Page Bookstore.


Phish, Sugarland, Jason Mraz and The Roots are just a few of the famous names on the agenda at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, an open-air amphitheater located on 40 acres of forest in Columbia. The Pavilion features the best in rock, country, rhythm and blues, pop, jazz, hip hop, alternative and classical. Salisbury also continues to host the National Folk Festival in 2019 and 2021.

Sit back for a show at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, where award-winning Broadway and original musicals are performed alongside an exceptional buffet-style dinner. In-the-round staging provides each guest with an interactive experience and a great view—no seat is more than 30 feet from the stage. Toby’s is one of the few regional dinner theaters featuring a live orchestra.

Who says Shakespeare has to be stuffy? Baltimore’s Chesapeake Shakespeare Company produces shows that are fresh and fun takes on classics. Everyone is invited to get involved, and summer outdoor seating puts the audience up close to performers for Shakespeare in the Ruins.

If you think kids don’t like classical music, think again. Under the direction of Music Director Marin Alsop, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is famous for its seasonal pops (featuring popular music), classical performances, family series and educational concerts for pre-K through high school students. A creative schedule includes music for budding 6-month-old music lovers to those 90+.

Nestled on 16 acres of land off the Capital Beltway, the Strathmore in Bethesda offers a diverse array of options. The Music Center at Strathmore presents performances by international artists of folk, rock, blues, pop, R&B, classical and more. It’s home to several arts partners, including The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, The National Philharmonic, and Maryland Classical Youth Orchestras. The Mansion at Strathmore features more intimate programs in a cozy 100-seat music room. A gallery suite, outdoor sculpture garden and concert pavilion, plus a tea room and shop, encourage visitors to make a day of it.

The Avalon Theatre in Easton is often called the “Showplace of the Eastern Shore.” Before seeing even one show, the building itself is a showstopper. Leaded glass doors at every entrance, an 18-foot dome with 148 lights and a 300-pipe, electro-pneumatic organ provide plenty of pizzazz. The varied slate of performers includes jazz and blues, folk, acoustic and just about everything in between.

Bluegrass legends? Award-winning comedians? Emerging artists? Sassy, brassy singers? You’ll find all that and more at the historic Weinberg Center for the Arts, the “Jewel of Frederick.” One week, an alluring chanteuse may be singing titillating love songs. At other times, banjo music, The United States Army Band or a country music icon’s voice soars through this beautifully restored theater dating back to the 1920s. Don’t miss a night when silent films are shown with live Wurlitzer organ accompaniment.

National Folk Festival in Salisbury
Edwin Remsberg
American Visionary Arts Museum
Dan Meyers