Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Bloomington's Top Arts & Culture Attractions
Bloomington is an incredible hub for arts and culture. With historic performance venues, Indiana University icons, cultural centers, and world-renowned museums, there's a wide array of arts- and culture-related attractions for visitors to experience. Enjoy big-city performances, international cultures, historic artwork & artifacts, and more at the following locations.
Downtown's beloved 4th Street is home to a variety of international restaurants that serve incredible, authentic fare that's isn't found too often in the Midwest. The street, known as "International Row," is well-loved by students, locals, and visitors — there's something for everyone to enjoy, and there's always an abundance of opportunities to try something new. Cuisine choices include Burmese, Cajun, Korean, Thai, Turkish, Indian, and Greek across 11 restaurants.
The Bluebird is Bloomington's premier music venue — some even consider it a musical institution and sacred stage. The legendary venue is strictly 21+, located just one block north of The Square. They book iconic artists such as Jimmy Eat World and Blues Traveler, cover bands including Hairbangers Ball and Back to Mac, and local artists like Hank Ruff and Fat Pockets. You haven't truly experienced B-Town's live music scene before seeing a show at The Bird.
Originally built in 1922 as a silent-movie house, the Buskirk-Chumley Theater (fondly nick-named the Bus-Chum) has since been beautifully restored and now serves as a venue for musical performances, local festivals, theater & dance productions, film screenings, and stand-up comedy. The stage has been graced by John Mellencamp, Iron and Wine, The Indigo Girls, Five for Fighting, and many more through the years. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Bus-Chum is a must on your list of places to visit in B-Town, whether it's for a performance or to simply admire its beauty and history.
The Comedy Attic
The Comedy Attic, Bloomington's first and only full-time comedy club, is one of the most respected comedy venues in the country. Many comedians cite B-Town as a destination spot for comedy, and some have even hailed The Comedy Attic the best in the country. Comedians who have performed at The Attic include Amy Schumer, Melissa Villaseñor, Marc Maron, Tig Notaro, Bobcat Goldthwait, and many more, making it one of the most esteemed performance venues in the area.
Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University
The Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University is a work of art itself — designed by I.M. Pei, the architect behind the Louvre Pyramid and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the museum has no 90-degree angles except where structurally-necessary. Throughout seven galleries, there are over 45,000 objects available for observation, including works from Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Claude Monet, as well as ancient artifacts, Renaissance masterpieces, and much more — all available to the public at no admission cost. With works from nearly every art-producing culture throughout history, the museum prides itself on using art as a means to shape the way visitors understand the human experience.
While there are several attractions on the Indiana University campus featured in this list, the university itself is one of the most significant contributors to Bloomington's history and culture. Founded in 1820, just two years after Bloomington and Monroe County, IU boasts beautiful architecture, designated nature preserves, limestone features as a nod to the local industry, incredible artifacts found inside various education buildings & campus museums, and a rich history of helping mold Bloomington into the wonderful community it is today.
From the outside, the IU Auditorium is a stunningly grand building inspired by the culture of Southern Indiana, constructed out of locally-quarried Indiana Limestone. When you walk inside, however, you're transported to a big-city-feeling venue — the high ceilings, classic art, and all-around opulent space feels more like Chicago than Bloomington. Visitors are greeted by the historic Indiana Murals created by Thomas Hart Benton for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair as they walk through the auditorium doors, then are wowed by the lavish theater's grand size and rich shades of cream, crimson, and gold.
The IU Auditorium holds around 3,200 people and hosts off-Broadway productions, concerts, comedians, and talks with notable celebrities & public figures each year. Over the years, guests have included Laverne Cox, Bob Dylan, Coretta Scott King, Tiffany Haddish, R.E.M., Maya Angelou, The Supremes, Sarah Silverman, Yo-Yo Ma, Mac Miller, Dave Chappelle, Tony Bennett, Trevor Noah, and many, many more.
The Lilly Library is an internationally-revered collection of millions of cultural & literary artifacts that document some of humanity's highest achievements, available for observation & admiration to all in Bloomington, incredibly, at no cost. The museum boasts over 460,000 books, 8.5 million manuscripts, 120,000 items of sheet music, and thousands of other items.
Special artifacts that can only be found at the Lilly Library include a New Testament of the Gutenberg Bible, the First Folio of Shakespeare's works, over 30,000 comics donated by Batman producer, Michael Uslan, the first printed edition of The Canterbury Tales, George Washington's letter accepting the presidency of the United States, typescripts from many of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, four of John Ford's Oscars, Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of the Bill of Rights, 16,000 miniature books, all under 2.5-inches in height, 94 of Sylvia Plath's poems, and much, much more.
Monroe County Courthouse
Standing in the center of The Square since 1907, the Monroe County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. The limestone building is a source of community pride and commitment to historic preservation, boasting architectural beauty with its ornate exterior and intricate muraled dome — a work of art to be admired from inside the courthouse. The various statues around the building also contribute to its architectural and cultural importance, making it one of the most significant landmarks in Bloomington.
Monroe County History Center
The Monroe County History Center strives to collect, interpret, and present the genealogy, history, and artifacts of Monroe County in order to best depict the heritage & culture of the community. The museum is located in a historical building that was previously the Carnegie Library, and before that, a school for Black children in late 1800s & early 1900s. Here, you can learn about the history of Bloomington's limestone industry, Monroe County transportation, iconic local sports & athletes, and more. The History Center also features rotating exhibits throughout the year, as well as a gift shop comprised of goods crafted by local artisans.
Musical Arts Center
IU's Musical Arts Center (MAC) is one of the most state-of-the-art performance venues in the United States, featuring the second-largest stage area in the country — second only to New York City's Metropolitan Opera. The venue hosts ballets, operas, and musical performances by the Jacobs School of Music, seating nearly 1,500 guests during any given event. Visitors flock to the venue each holiday season for the annual production of The Nutcracker, as well as other performances throughout the year.
Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall
Considered one of college basketball's most iconic arenas, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall is the site of Hoosier tradition, lore, victory, and comradery. It's a venue with rich basketball history — practically holy ground for college basketball enthusiasts. There's nothing quite like attending an IU basketball game and singing "Sweet Caroline" with 17,000 people as the Marching Hundred jovially plays the tune from the stands — the sports venue is truly a cultural pillar in the Bloomington community.
Even if you can't make it to town for a game, visiting the arena is still a special treat — wander the halls and check out the historic team photos & other memorabilia, including the scoreboard and center court from decades ago, cases of championship trophies, and the legendary NCAA championship banners.
Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center
Frequently visited by the Dalai Lama, Buddhist teachers, and scholars from around the world, the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (TMBCC) is dedicated to fostering, preserving, and sharing the Tibetan & Mongolian cultures with the Bloomington community and the United States as a whole. Their grounds offer many beautiful views of cultural architecture, decor, and design, including the nation's sole Tibetan Chortens (Buddhist shrines), both dedicated by the Dalai Lama, and the Mani Korlo, a structure featuring Tibetan prayer wheels. If you're looking for the most culturally-rich attraction in B-Town, the TMBCC is it.
Looking for more special places in B-Town? Check out these blogs:
- Bloomington's Best Outdoor Hidden Gems
- Bloomington's Most Instagrammable Places
- Icons of Indiana University
Where to Hear Live Music
Enjoy live music at restaurants, concert halls, and other venues in Bloomington.
Experience all the Hoosier campus has to offer — museums, libraries, sports, sight-seeing, and more.
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