20th annual Austin Museum Day fuses past and future

Sami Sparber

Take a second and picture a museum — it’s probably old, dusty and full of memorabilia preserving the past. But for Austin Museum Day’s 20th anniversary this Sunday, organizers are focusing on the future. 

On Sept. 17, 39 museums in the Austin area will offer free admission as well as several new interactive features. Between new technology, new content and even new museums beyond Austin’s city limits, the Austin Museum Partnership is sending a message: This isn’t your parents’ Museum Day.

According to Nick Nobel, co-chair of the partnership, Austin Museum Partnership has updated its app and now allows users to create an individualized itinerary of museums and activities.

“We’ve been working really hard to fine-tune the app, and something that people had requested was the ability to set their own agenda,” Nobel said. “We’re excited to give visitors the opportunity to tailor their experiences to their own personal tastes.”

Alex Morrison, co-chair of the Austin Museum Day Committee, said the app update will allow visitors to maximize their time on Museum Day.

“Last year I met a family who was trying to visit five museums in the one day,” Morrison said. “Hopefully more families will be able to do that this year thanks to the new feature on our app.”

Austin Museum Partnership will also debut an Austin Museum Day Snapchat geofilter, which Morrison said will help create a living memory of the event. This sharing and celebrating of seemingly ordinary moments is the focus of this year’s programming at the Austin History Center, an institution that’s been part of the annual event since 2012. 

Mike Miller, managing archivist for the Austin History Center, said the center’s “Families in the Archives” activities will shed light on everyday families and their stories. A preservation station, pop-up exhibit and oral history recording booth will allow visitors to utilize new technology and interact with history in new ways. 

“It’s fascinating to recognize that to be a part of history doesn’t mean you have to be an important government official or a big business owner,” Miller said. “People who just get up in the morning, work an 8-, 10-, 12-hour day, go home to their families, go to bed, get up and do it all over again — they’re important to the history of our town, too.”

Austin Museum Partnership has also expanded its museum network to include institutions in other parts of the Texas Hill Country, such as Georgetown and Johnson City. According to Morrison, more participating museums mean more potential visitors.

“We try to serve as many people in the Austin area as we can,” Morrison said. “Last year, we served a little over 28,000 visitors, and we’ll probably have about 28,000 to 30,000 visitors this year.”

Although this year marks an important milestone, Nobel said he believes the partnership is just getting started. Austin Museum Partnership has big plans for the future of Austin Museum Day. 

“When Museum Day started, it was just a handful of institutions,” Nobel said. “Now we’ve expanded to 39 institutions, so really, the best commemoration that we can do is to keep expanding, keep serving the community, keep serving our institutions and just continuing to make Museum Day a much bigger deal than the year before.”