Institute of Texan Cultures: Visiting Diverse Past of Texas

Written by Randy Watson

San Antonio is nothing if not a melting pot for different cultures and ethnic groups, and the University of Texas at the San Antonio Institute of Texan Culture is a 50,000 square foot monument and museum dedicated to exploring and investigating this history.  Each year, the institute produces exhibits, hosts talks and workshops, and maintains a comprehensive library filled with works on cultural and ethnic history.

The Institute of Texan Cultures is located at 801 South Bowie Street, San Antonio, Texas, in HemisFair Park beneath the Tower of the Americas and adjacent to the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center.

 The museum was opened in 1968 as the Texas State Exhibits Building for the HemisFair celebration of that year, and renamed to its current moniker after the fair concluded.  In 1986, the Institute was accepted as a campus of UTSA.  The Institutes funding comes primarily from grants, donations, and sales from their products, admissions, publications, as well as government funding.

The Institute is certainly not your average stuffy, buttoned-down type of affair.  It is a living, breathing entity in which, visitors are welcomed and encouraged to touch certain exhibits, and interact with the performers portraying the colorful characters from Texas’ past.

The Texans One and All exhibit focuses on the many multicultural groups that make up the demographics of the state of Texas.  Here visitors can listen to German oompah bands, learn how to write Chinese numbers, hear stories of the Japanese interred in WWII, learn about Texas baseball legend Frank Robinson, and find out more about the Tejano culture.  Texas\' social fabric is so dense with populations from other parts of the world, that to learn about each of them is to learn about the world itself.

Creation and Cosmos is an exhibit dedicated to examining American Indian spirituality and mysticism.  Visitors to this exhibit are able to walk through caverns and caves resembling those in which the Indians lived.  This exhibit asks guests to travel through time to an older time, and to see the world as our ancestors might have seen it.  Religious artifacts, pottery, and other clues offer glimpses into this vision of the ancient world.

The Living Texas exhibit asks guests to no only view how early Texans lived, but to actually take part in it!  This is the institute’s most hands-on exhibit, and visitors are able to talk to those who settled the land and built the basis for what Texas was to later become.  Guests are invited to see how a real chuck wagon works, make thread on old spinning wheels, go inside Indian tipis, learn how quilting was done with authentic materials, and send mail from an old-style post office.

The Institute of Texan Cultures also has many temporary events that change throughout the year.  Currently, the temporary exhibits are:

  • Here Be Dragons—many cultures throughout the years have believed in dragons, and many of the settlers of Texas were no different.  Throughout modern Texas, dragons are still used as symbols for various reasons.  This exhibit explains why.  Running until November 4, 2007.
  • Conjunto—visitors can learn about this musical style through a series of photos, sculptures, performances, and instruments.  Until October 3, 2007.
  • Heritage to Horizons: U.S. Air Force History Through Art—an exploration of the USAF history through paintings and photos.  June 29-August 12

Schools are encouraged to visit the museum for field trips and to take advantage of the institute’s educational programs.  The institute is always able to host group tours, and can provide guides, as well as tailor a tour to the needs, if the teachers wish to emphasize certain exhibits more than others.

Operating Hours

Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Sunday 12 p.m.–5 p.m

UTSA\'s Institute of Texan Cultures is closed on: New Year\'s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year\'s Eve. Days and hours of operation are subject to change for special events.

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