Date night at the movies is so last year. Up your cultural exposure by taking your date to see an award-winning production or travelling art exhibit. Live theater companies are entertaining packed houses all over the South, so take in the symphony, snag a seat at a Tony Award-winning play, or roam curated collections of art at your own pace. Whatever you choose to experience from this list, you can bet it will be a first-rate cultural attraction.
Shepherdstown is one of the country’s oldest cities, but since 1991, the annual Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University aims to highlight the newest of the new in American theater. Specifically, they only premiere second or third productions on stage at the festival, creating the perfect incubator for fledgling plays from neophyte playwrights and veterans like Joyce Carol Oates and Sam Shepard. It’s not about drawing crowds either; the 11,000 tickets sold annually are more than enough for the small Shenandoah Valley town. They are all about launching innovative theater, so no tickets will be sold for overdone productions like Mama Mia!
Blackfriars Playhouse - Staunton, VA
Tucked in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the Blackfriars Playhouse is the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s original London indoor theatre. The 300-seat playhouse opened in September 2001 and showcases Shakespeare productions year-round. The American Shakespeare Center hosts an internationally-acclaimed theater company that performs Shakespeare’s works under their original staging conditions: a simple stage, without elaborate sets, and with the audience sharing the same light as the actors. The Blackfriars Playhouse has been established as one of America’s premier Shakespeare destinations. As one would expect, this stage pays homage to Shakespeare by featuring his famous plays such as, Hamlet, Twelfth Night and Macbeth; this, is in itself, is a perfect reason to visit Staunton.
The Tennessee Theatre - Knoxville, TN
This theater was built in 1928 and was hailed as, “The South’s most beautiful theatre.” The Spanish-Moorish style interior venue was a former movie palace and reopened in 2005 as a world-class performing arts center; the result of a $25.5 million renovation and restoration project funded through public and private donations. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and honored as the Official State Theatre of Tennessee, today’s Tennessee Theatre has something for everyone: classical music, vintage films, dance, Broadway, and stellar performances by today’s hottest musicians. Local arts organizations such as the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and Knoxville Opera use the Tennessee Theatre throughout the year.
Alliance Theatre - Atlanta, GA
Founded in 1968, the Alliance Theatre is the largest regional theater in the Southeast. The Alliance showcases ten productions each year. Past productions have included The Color Purple and Sister Act the Musical. In 2007, Alliance won the regional Theatre Tony Award. The company, originally called the Atlanta Municipal Theatre, staged its first production (King Arthur) at the Alliance in 1968. Within a decade, the company had grown tremendously and staged the world premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Tiger Tail and was casting such well-known actors as Richard Dreyfuss, Morgan Freeman, Jane Alexander, Paul Winfield, Robert Foxworth, Jo Van Fleet and Cybill Shepherd.
The South offers museumgoers a range of experiences to stroll through. Whether your interests lie in the visual arts, music, food, history, space, or architecture, here is our list of favorite museums
Birmingham Museum of Art - AL
The world-class offerings at the BMA include paintings, furniture, and objects ranging over a 4,000-year period. The museum boasts an extensive Asian art collection, as well as the largest Wedgwood collection outside England. Free admission.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art - Bentonville, AR
Five centuries of American art can be viewed at Crystal Bridges. Highlights include the Alfred Stieglitz Collection and Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter.” The enchanting 120-acre site offers 3.5 miles of art trails. Free admission.
High Museum of Art - Atlanta, GA
The High, one of the largest art museums in the South, has more than 15,000 objects in its permanent collection. In the garden enjoy sculptures by Rodin and Lichtenstein. $19.50 for admission.
National Quilt Museum - Paducah, KY
Enjoy quilting styles from antique to contemporary. The museum shows how traditional methods can have today’s meanings. Sculpture and stained glass are also on display. $11 admission.
Southern Food and Beverage Museum - New Orleans, LA
Quirky and fun, trace the European, African, and Caribbean roots of Southern food through exhibits for every state—then visit the adjoining Museum of the American Cocktail. $10 admission.
Ohr-O’Keefe Museum - Biloxi, MS
Visitors to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum are delighted not only by the work of ceramicist George Ohr, but also by the extraordinary architecture of the Frank Gehry-designed campus. $10 admission.
American Banjo Museum - Oklahoma City, OK
Displaying more than 400 banjos of all styles, the American Banjo Museum traces the history of the instrument from its African roots to bluegrass fame. $8 admission.
Columbia Museum of Art - Columbia, SC
With a collection of more than 7,000 objects, there is more than enough to keep you engaged. $12 admission.
Frist Center for the Visual Arts - Nashville, TN
Once a post office, this Art Deco building now hosts a wide array of traveling exhibits. There is always something new because exhibitions change every six to eight weeks. $12 admission.
Enjoy the carefully curated arts in any of the Southern States. Score tickets for an award-winning show after enjoying a full day of exploring the works of Chihuly and Alexander Calder. Look beyond the typical tourist attraction and delve into what makes each city a cultural center for locals and travelers in-the-know. There are sizable cultural attractions in every corner of the South, so pack your bags and discover a theater or museum and curate a few of your own unique experiences.
More Cultural Destinations
Sultana Disaster Museum – Marion, Arkansas
The Sultana explosion remains the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history; claiming 1,800 lives (more than the Titanic). This tragedy occurred during the last days of the Civil War and just two weeks after the assassination of Lincoln, the disaster went unnoticed. The City of Marion opened the Sultana Disaster Museum in 2015 in a temporary location, since the Sultana remains are on private property. City officials are moving forward with plans to build a permanent facility. A visit will educate you on the many lives lost, and the tragic story.
Mississippi’s Ultimate Arts + Entertainment
Experience- Opening 2018!
Elvis. Faulkner. Kermit. King. When it comes to arts and entertainment, Mississippi is a land of legends. Now it’s time to tell our story to the world. The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience, or The MAX for short, is dedicated to telling the stories of legendary Mississippians in one place. The MAX will showcase Mississippi’s global legacy, honor our legends and inspire tomorrow’s artists to follow their own creative dreams. This is no ordinary destination. This is Mississippi to The MAX.
2118 Front Street, Meridian, Mississippi
National Museum of the Marine Corps
Honor, Courage & Commitment…the National Museum of the Marine Corps is a lasting tribute to U.S. Marines - past, present and future. Adjacent to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, the exhibits surround visitors with irreplaceable artifacts and immerse them in the sights and sounds of Marines in action. Follow in the footsteps of Marines: from boot camp to the boot prints left in the sands of the Pacific Islands and on Vietnam’s Hill 881.
18900 Jefferson Davis Highway
Triangle, VA 22172