The Peach State has a lot to recommend it, and that includes the fuzzy fruit from which it takes its nickname. But in between bites of sweet, succulent peaches, group travelers would do well to experience one of the state’s other pleasures: Georgia museums are world-class, capable of not only educating visitors but entertaining them, too.
From art repositories to an attraction that explores science, from institutions that honor American prisoners of war and those that honor the civil rights movement, these peachy-keen sites just might be the highlight of any Georgia tour.
National Center for Civil and Human Rights
In the city where Martin Luther King Jr. was born, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights explores the connection between the American civil rights movement and the global quest for human rights through a mixture of artifacts, photographs and interactive exhibits. “If you’re coming to Atlanta, it should be on the top of your list,” said Lindsey Ford, public relations specialist with the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a powerful museum for groups to visit.”
Group leaders can also book a private, catered dinner at the 42,000-square-foot center, which was first envisioned by legendary civil rights advocates Evelyn Lowery and Andrew Young. The dream became a reality when the center opened in 2007, after the Coca-Cola Company donated land adjacent to its own museum.
One of the center’s highlights is the stunning outdoor water sculpture that showcases quotes from Nelson Mandela and Margaret Mead. Inside, the lunch counter sit-in simulation is especially compelling. Visitors sit at stools, put their hands on the counter and headphones over their ears, and experience the sounds of a taunting crowd. The stools even vibrate, as if kicked. “Everyone who comes through should do it,” said Ford, “because it really puts you in the shoes of protestors.”
Tellus Science Museum
It doesn’t matter if the motorcoach is filled with kids or just kids at heart; everyone will love Cartersville’s Tellus Science Museum, which debuted in 2009. Welcoming more than 200,000 guests a year, the 120,000-square-foot museum offers four galleries, including one each dedicated to fossils and minerals. Three special exhibit galleries, four science labs, a walk-in fossil dig, a gem-panning area, a planetarium, an observatory, a presentation theater, an orientation theater, a store and a cafe round out the space.
Highlights include the Cartersville Meteorite, a red space rock the size of a potato that crashed through a local house not long after the museum opened. The Smithsonian affiliate also boasts the biggest moon rock on exhibit in Georgia, on permanent loan from NASA, as well as Stan, a 40-foot Tyrannosaurus rex that’s the star of the show. The popular digital planetarium hosts 45-minute shows daily.
That’s not the only way groups can get starry-eyed, though.
“We have tons of educators on staff,” said Tellus Science Museum director of marketing Shelly Redd, “so we can customize group visits into whatever they want. And we can certainly take a group in to tour the observatory. We have a huge telescope and a retractable dome. Depending on what’s happening in the sky, we can let people look through the telescope, too.”
High Museum of Art
Founded in 1905 as the Atlanta Art Association, the High Museum of Art is a blockbuster institution that just keeps getting better. Following massive expansions in 1983 that included a stunning new structure designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Richard Meier and in 2005, when three new buildings by Renzo Piano debuted, the High Museum of Art grew to encompass 312,000 square feet. These facilities, dubbed “works of art in and of themselves” by Marci Tate Davis, the museum’s manager of public relations, are part of what distinguishes the High from other institutions of its kind.
But that’s not the only reason the museum is special.
“We’re an encyclopedic museum, with a wide-ranging collection of more than 17,000 works of art that includes an intensive collection of 19th- and 20th-century American fine and decorative art,” Tate Davis said. “We have major holdings of photography and folk and self-taught work, especially by artists from the American South, so that’s definitely something that distinguishes us. We also have a wonderful collection of modern and contemporary art, a growing collection of African art and significant holdings of European paintings and works on paper.”
If that sounds like a lot to absorb, docents at the High Museum of Art give a wide range of group tours that make all that beauty more approachable. The museum offers a highlights tour, as well as tours themed around special exhibitions, the museum’s architecture, African art, women artists and black history.
National Prisoner of War Museum
The National Prisoner of War Museum couldn’t have a more appropriate or moving location. The institution sits within the Andersonville National Historic Site, where the Confederate Army established the most notorious of all Civil War prisoner camps.
“It’s thematically organized,” Jody Mays, the site’s interpretation and resource management chief, said of the museum. “The conflicts are intermingled because that helps connect the experiences of all American prisoners of war so that visitors can understand what they endured and sacrificed on behalf of our country.”
A wide range of artifacts are on display in the museum, including a post from the Andersonville stockade, a ship that American and French prisoners created out of soup bones during the War of 1812 and the flight suit U.S. Army Maj. Rhonda Cornum was wearing when she was shot down and captured during the Persian Gulf War. One of the most powerful exhibits is the “Sack of Cement Cross” created by Americans held in the Philippines during World War II. It was made to honor fellow soldiers who died during the infamous Bataan Death March.
The National Prisoner of War Museum offers guided group tours at no extra charge.
“It’s not uncommon to have group visitors who are very moved,” Mays said of the tours. “Some people are in tears knowing what the prisoners went through.”
Booth Western Art Museum
Cartersville’s Booth Western Art Museum doesn’t just display contemporary Western art of the past half-century; it also showcases contemporary Western art inspired by movements such as cubism and photo realism “or any ism you ever studied in art history for that matter,” said Seth Hopkins, the museum’s executive director. “That’s about three-quarters of the exhibition space of the permanent collection. We also have the Civil War gallery, which has artwork produced in the last 30 or 40 years. And then there’s a collection of one-page signed letters and images of every president.”
Centered around the collection of a family that donated its art treasures to start the museum, the 120,000-square-foot Booth opened in 2003. Among its most prized pieces are Maynard Dixon’s “Red Butte With Mountain Men,” which depicts a huge rock dwarfing a group of tiny figures in the foreground. Even more impressive is the museum’s Howard Terpning collection.
“He’s one of the most decorated artists of our lifetime, and we have four major paintings of his, in three different media, across 20 years of his career,” Hopkins said. “That’s completely unique in this country.”
According to Hopkins, the Booth’s collection is “very accessible,” even to group travelers who aren’t art fans, thanks to the iconic nature of the West and the nostalgia so many feel for it. The museum offers a discount to groups and private docent-led tours at no extra charge.