National Museum of the American Indian New York

This post provides details about the National Museum of the American Indian, including information about where to find it, what to see there, and other tips you might want to consider.

 


Overview

The National Museum of the American Indian was a private collection of Native American artifacts.

Actually, the collection was the largest in the world with more than 800,000 artifacts — before it was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1989.  

The museum has two branches — one in Washington, DC, and another in New York, NY. They also have a collections facility in Suitland, MD.

Be sure to read our post on other things to do in Lower Manhattan as well as our Guide to New York on a Budget, where you will find other free museums and other attractions.

NOTE: Some exhibitions and other areas of the museum have been closed for safety reasons due to the pandemic. Closed areas include the following:

  • The Diker Pavilion
  • imagiNATIONS Activity Center
  • Mili Kapi Cafe
  • Museum Store

The number of visitors is currently limited for safety reasons, social distancing will be required, and you will need to wear a mask to enter the museum.

We do not yet know when these restrictions will be lifted.

New York Travel Tips and Hacks

Admission

The National Museum of the American Indian New York is open seven days a week and admission is free. Be prepared to go through a metal detector, much like you would at the airports.

Public tours for adults and families are held most weekday afternoons at 1 pm and 3 pm and Sundays at 3 pm and explain the exhibition and the architecture of this beautiful building.

The museum’s permanent exhibition, Infinity of Nations, displays over 700 Native American objects from across the continents.  

For more information on tours, times, and exhibits, check out the museum’s visitor’s page.

 


Where is the Museum of the American Indian in New York City?

The museum is located at the southern tip of Manhattan, adjacent to both Bowling Green and Battery Parks.  

As you can see in the map below, access to the museum is possible by several subway train lines.  

The closest express train stop though isn’t shown on the map.  It’s the Bowling Green station (4, 5 trains).  

We recommend using this Google map for directions to the Museum of the American Indian from anywhere in the NYC area.

Where is the Museum of American History in New York City

Being located in Lower Manhattan means that there are many other popular tourist attractions nearby, including the following:

While you’re in the area, you might want to consider our pay-what-you-wish walking tour of Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center.

 


Exhibits

In addition to the 700 permanent objects on display in the Infinity of Nations exhibition, there are several exhibitions to experience at this museum.


Why We Serve

This is another ongoing exhibition that focuses on the subject of Native Americans who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

If you’ve ever wondered some of the reasons behind why Native Americans chose to serve their country, this attraction attempts to answer that question. 

Why We Serve also commemorates the National Native Americans Veterans Memorial.


Ancestral Connections

Although it is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, this exhibition takes a look at the work of 10 contemporary Native American artists to see how they celebrate their heritage.

These works show the many ways in which Native American culture and tradition have informed the artistic endeavors of Native peoples even in modern times.


Stretching the Canvas

Available until January 2022, this exhibit includes a variety of paintings from multiple different Native American artists.

The artwork on display in this attraction spans 8 decades of Native American painting, and it features dozens of incredible works of art.

 


History of the National Museum of the American Indian

NMAI-NY is housed in the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House.

This building was designed by Cass Gilbert (who also designed the Woolworth Building a few blocks north on Broadway) in the Beaux-Arts style.

Outside are 12 statues along the frieze (If you look right of the center windows, you can see Christopher Columbus), which represent 12 seafaring nations from around the globe.

The four ladies seated out front, designed by Daniel Chester French, represent the four continents.Museum of the American Indian New York Sculpture

Constructed between 1900 and 1907, the building faces Bowling Green, the first public space in New York City, instead of the port, as was the custom of the times. 

Upon entry to the building up the massive frontal staircase, the rotunda provides an explanation of the construction and design of the building and the statues out front.

The walls of the rotunda are painted with murals and portraits by Reginald Marsh; the skylight of the rotunda is considered a Guastavino masterpiece.

The Customs Service was located in this building until 1971 when it moved into the World Trade Center.

In 1976, the U.S. Custom House was declared a National Historic Landmark and in 1979 restoration began on the building.

In 1994, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian moved here. The museum offers a rich variety of things to see.

NMAI works with the tribes concerning the safekeeping of their objects and has achieved respect among the tribes.

The museum maintains an active calendar of events and often provides live programs on the weekends. Check nmai.si.edu for up-to-date information on programs and schedules.

 


Museum of the American Indian Visitor Tip:

Our Lower Manhattan Tour is a great companion activity to a visit to the museum and a great way to discover the neighborhood.  

Consider stopping in before or after the tour.

About the author

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers.

Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo, Washington.org, and more.