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

From the Met’s “The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism” to an exhibition showcasing the best of New York City culture, there's a lot to see and do on Fifth Avenue between 82nd and 110th.

The Museum Mile Festival of NYC hits Fifth Avenue
There’s a lot to see and do at the 2024 Museum Mile Festival and just three hours in which to do it, so it helps to have a game plan. Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

New York’s biggest block party, the Museum Mile Festival, is back next week on June 18 for its 46th edition 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 festival.

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This year’s participating museums are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Neue Galerie New York, the Guggenheim, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, The Jewish Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, El Museo del Barrio and the Africa Center. 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.

What is the Museum Mile Festival?

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, making your own art or simply strolling (or biking) down a carless Fifth Avenue with a few thousand of your neighbors. Most years, more than 50,000 people attend!

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.

The Museum Mile Festival of NYC hits Fifth Avenue
The Museum Mile Festival is a family friendly affair. Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

What’s on view at the 2024 Museum Mile Festival?

Last year’s Museum Mile Festival brought throngs of art lovers to the Guggenheim to see Young Picasso in Paris,” which showcased ten paintings and works on paper from the year the artist spent in the French capital at the start of his career, and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty“ and “Van Gogh’s Cypresses.” With so much to see and do this year and every year, having a plan is paramount, and the evening’s Museum Mile must-see exhibitions will vary from art lover to art lover. Should you prioritize Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (91st Street) or The Africa Center (110th Street)? That all depends on what you’re hoping to experience.

Art-loving families might want to stop by the Museum of the City of New York (103rd-104th Streets), which is celebrating its centennial with “This Is New York: 100 Years of the City in Art and Pop Culture,” a show of everything from Berenice Abbott’s 1930s-era street photography to Carrie Bradshaw’s famous tutu from the Sex and the City opening credits, as it will have as-of-yet unspecified activities for kids. Other exhibitions currently on view include “Changing the Face of Democracy: Shirley Chisholm at 100” and “Byzantine Bembé: New York by Manny Vega.”

As usual, the Met (82nd Street) has planned a range of programming for art lovers of all ages. On tap are a chamber music performance from Sugar Hill Salon inspired by the institution’s “The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism” exhibition, gallery chats in the “Hidden Faces: Covered Portraits of the Renaissance” exhibition, curated photo opps and artmaking activities. At the end of the evening, The Jon Lampley Band, presented by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, will play on the museum’s famous steps.

The Museum Mile Festival of NYC hits Fifth Avenue
When the streets are closed, art-loving New Yorkers come out in droves. Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In addition to the current exhibitions at El Museo del Barrio (105th Street), “Amalia Mesa-Bains: Archaeology of Memory,” the artist and curator’s first retrospective, and “Cuerpo: Carlos Martiel,” the first solo exhibition of the artist in a New York City museum, the institution will host musical performances by Osmay Calvo and his band, conduct drop-in gallery tours and host outdoor art-making activities inspired by the current exhibitions on view. Note that the museum is asking festival-goers who want to visit the galleries to register in advance.

The Jewish Museum (92nd Street) is hosting a musical performance just outside the museum by the lively Matt Darieu’s World Klezmer Kapelye—with Marcus Rojas on tuba, Jessica Lurie on reeds, Aaron Alexander on drums, Curtis Hasslebring on trombone and Max Kutner on guitar—for three sets at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. In between sets, art lovers can browse the museum’s current exhibitions: “Overflow, Afterglow: New Work in Chromatic Figuration” and “Frederick Kiesler: Vision Machines” or make a collage inspired by “Overflow, Afterglow.”

As with the other participating museums, Neue Galerie New York (86th Street) will offer free admission—for teens and adults, that is, as the institution’s no-under-twelves policy will still be in effect during the Museum Mile Festival. Visitors ages thirteen and up can check out “Paula Modersohn-Becker: Ich bin Ich / I am Me” and “Austrian Masterworks from the Neue Galerie” on a first-come, first-served basis, so if these are on your list of Museum Mile must-sees, plan to be there early.

And finally, the Guggenheim (89th Street) is going all-in on family friendliness this year, with water painting and an artsy sustainability activity presented by the museum’s School, Youth and Family team and Green Team that will turn upcycled fabric into a banner that mimics the museum’s curvature. Festival-goers can also check out “Jenny Holzer: Light Line,” “By Way Of: Material and Motion in the Guggenheim Collection,” and the “Thannhauser Collection.”

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