Arts

The Coolest Ways to Experience Boston Museums Virtually Right Now

Simple slideshows? No way. Check out these interactive, multi-sensory, and downright fun online resources.


This untitled work by the artist Futura is part of the Museum of Fine Arts’ Writing the Future exhibit. Online resources about the graffiti and hip hop- show include a video conversation with Futura, a digital music playlist, and more. / Untitled, 1982 Futura (American, born in 1955) Spray paint and marker on paper *Private Collection *© Futura 2000 / Wave 5 Communications LLC / Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Even as art galleries sit empty and museum doors stay shut, cultural institutions everywhere are still coming up with creative ways to connect with the public during the pandemic. Beyond virtual museum tours available for free via Google Arts & Culture, Boston’s best museums are rolling out plenty of innovative new ideas and activities this spring. From a digital music playlist that animates an urban art exhibit, to an interactive game that lets history buffs play sailor, check out these exciting ways to engage online with Boston’s museums right now.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation

We were looking forward to checking out the MFA’s game-changing graffiti art exhibit this spring, which explores the influential New York graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and his connection to the rise of hip-hop culture, with works from 12 of his contemporary artists. Fortunately, the online resources that support “Writing the Future” bring the vibe home. Start with the soundtrack, available to stream via Spotify: It’s a mix of jazz, punk, rap, funk, and more to inspire and set the scene, all assembled by exhibit co-curator and music expert Greg Tate. Then check out conversations with featured artist Futura and Grammy Award-winning musician Lupe Fiasco, moderated by exhibition curator Liz Munsell. And keep an eye out for bonus features on social media, including messages from contributing artists. Beyond the exhibit on New York’s post-graffiti era, the MFA’s robust online resources also include new Art for This Moment reflections from MFA staff, highlighting objects from across the museum’s collections; and a new virtual screening room with film releases every Friday.

New England Aquarium
Giant Ocean Tank webcam

This iconic Boston institution was built around the 200,000-gallon saltwater tank that’s home to Myrtle the green sea turtle and 1,000 other animals. Check up on Myrtle and friends any time you want with a look at the 24-hour live webcam. Tune in at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. to see daily feeding and maintenance dives, or just leave the video going to add some serene science to your day. Plus: Overflowing online are educational resources for teachers and parents, virtual visit videos, and live presentations most mornings from marine experts like National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry.

Institute for Contemporary Art
Sunday Brunch Jams

Make Sundays fun again with the ICA. The Seaport museum is on Instagram Live every Sunday brunch-time (11:30 a.m.) with local DJs, who are live-spinning funky sets to pair with special brunch recipes that you can make at home. First Fridays have also gone virtual: On May 1, tune in via YouTube Live for performances from local DJs and dancers, plus cocktail-making and choreography lessons. Other cool ways to explore the ICA from isolation: Catch up on Friday Art Note blog posts, close your eyes and listen to a mobile tour, and explore the online archive of past exhibitions.

The Gropius House photo courtesy of Historic New England

Historic New England: The Gropius House
Walter Gropius home movies

Hidden among rolling hills and country roads in Lincoln is a seminal example of Bauhaus design, the Walter Gropius House. While the aesthetically pleasing marvel of form and function is currently closed for public tours, you can still get a look inside—and see what mid-century life was like for the modernist pioneer who built it. The house’s caretakers at Historic New England have uploaded three Gropius family home videos from the 1960s, filmed on an 8-millimeter home-movie camera during special days. (Hello, kitschy Christmas trees!) Has this virtual visit to the Gropius house piqued your interest in the Bauhaus movement? Thanks to the time Gropius spent at Harvard—his career there is the reason he built his iconic home—the Harvard Art Museums have one of the largest collections of artifacts relating to this influential school of art and design, with tons of resources available online.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s famous nasturtiums remain where they grew in Hingham this year, but visitors can get a virtual look. / Courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Nasturtium nursery tour

The iconic courtyard at Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Fenway mansion is typically draped in hanging nasturtiums each spring to celebrate her April 14 birthday. While that portal into the eccentric Boston luminary’s world is closed right now, museum staff opted to keep the flowers in the nursery—and give visitors a rare look at the Hingham greenhouse where all of the museum’s brilliant blooms are born. Check out this YouTube tour of the closed-to-the-public nursery with horticulture director Erika Rumbley, who describes how the iconic blooming ribbons are grown each year.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Teaching and Learning Tuesdays

Students are undoubtedly getting some life lessons in presidential behavior while they’re learning at home right now. But any educators, parents, caretakers, or history buffs who are looking for real leadership lessons should take advantage of the weekly resource guides from this Columbia Point institution. Released each week, “learning Tuesday” lesson plans—built for different age groups around themes like “the Power of Words” and “Civil Rights & Civic Action”—are loaded with primary sources, videos, activities, and other reading material to support educators right now.

Screenshot from the USS Constitution’s interactive game, A Sailor’s Life for Me

USS Constitution Museum
Play A Sailor’s Life for Me

There’s a sea of information online from the crew of this Boston-built battleship. Along with tours of the Charlestown-docked vessel every morning live on Facebook, virtual visitors can dive into history, explore artifacts, and navigate educational activities. Wannabe pirates will particularly enjoy the interactive game A Sailor’s Life for Me, which gives players the chance to scrub the ship’s deck, eradicate rats in the cargo hold, and steer the vessel on the open seas.