What Not to Miss at This Year’s Museum Mile Festival

From Van Gogh's cypresses to Picasso's early works and more, there's a lot to see on Fifth Avenue between 82nd and 110th.

New York’s biggest block party, the Museum Mile Festival, is back tomorrow (June 13) and no invite is required to attend. Ostensibly, the event’s big draw is the fact that eight of the city’s iconic art institutions go admission-free starting at 6 p.m. and stay open until 9 p.m. But that doesn’t leave a lot of time to actually go museum hopping, so what brings New Yorkers out in droves is more likely the fact that a 23-block stretch of Fifth Avenue is closed to vehicle traffic for the duration of the event.

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People make drawings with chalk on Fifth
A carless Fifth Avenue in front of the Guggenheim during a past Museum Mile Festival. STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages

This year’s participating museums include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Neue Galerie New York, Museum of the City of New York, The Jewish Museum, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, El Museo del Barrio, The Africa Center and the Guggenheim. Attempting to visit them all is a fool’s goal. Eight institutions in three hours? Even at the briskest of clips, the math just doesn’t check out.

And anyway, the Museum Mile Festival isn’t necessarily about seeing art. The event was established in 1978 to “increase public awareness of its member institutions and promote public support of the arts.” Shared culture is the order of the evening, whether that involves gazing in awe at Old Masters, enjoying live music or simply strolling down a carless Fifth Avenue with a few thousand of your neighbors.

What is the Museum Mile?

The Museum Mile, which actually encompasses just under a mile and a half of city thoroughfare, is the stretch of Fifth Avenue from East 82nd Street to East 110th Street on the Upper East Side that marks the western edge of Carnegie Hill and the southernmost section of East Harlem. It’s a hotbed of culture, history and unsurprisingly, money. The Roosevelts, Rockefellers, Kennedys and Carnegies have all, at one time or another, called the area home. But the mere existence of Central Park does a lot to democratize the Museum Mile, as do the street vendors who set up shop along the route.

What’s on view at this year’s Museum Mile Festival?

With so much on view, having a plan is paramount, and the evening’s Museum Mile must-sees will vary from art lover to art lover. Should you hit Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (part of the Smithsonian Institution) or El Museo del Barrio? That all depends on what you’re hoping to experience.

A colorful painting of a crowded dancehall full of well-dressed patrons lit by glowing electric lights.
The exhibition highlights one of Picasso’s defining works, Le Moulin de la Galette (ca. November 1900). Photograph by David Heald, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

For instance, Picasso may be problematic, but fans of the groundbreaking artist might want to brave the throngs descending upon the Guggenheim to see Young Picasso in Paris, which showcases ten paintings and works on paper from the year he spent in the French capital at the start of his career. And if you’re willing to queue up, you could also join the crowds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty or Van Gogh’s Cypresses.

Meanwhile, fans of art and pop culture in NYC should prioritize a visit to the Museum of the City of New York, which is celebrating its centennial with This Is New York, an exhibition of everything from Berenice Abbott’s 1930s-era street photography to Carrie Bradshaw’s famous tutu from the Sex and the City opening credits.

The Africa Center, formerly known as the Center for African Art and the Museum for African Art, is leaning into the Museum Mile Festival with a musical performance by West African Band Kakande, iLLUSTRA8 workshops and the debut of Black Future Newsstand, an interactive installation with “magazines, mini-zines, newspapers, art and other forms of media owned and published by Black folx that represent the diversity of the African diaspora.”

The Jewish Museum is offering a similarly multifaceted, hands-on experience with a musical performance by Dingonek Street Band and their own art-making activity on top of two feature exhibitions: The Sassoons and After ‘The Wild’: Contemporary Art from The Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation Collection.

What it comes down to is that there’s no wrong way to experience the Museum Mile Festival—possibly other than sticking to the sidewalk. The cars have been banished, and it’s summer in the city. It’s the perfect time to step out into the street.

What Not to Miss at This Year’s Museum Mile Festival