Designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry, the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art exalts the work of George E. Ohr, a ceramic artist and moustache enthusiast known as the "Mad Potter of Biloxi." After it was destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, the campus reopened in 2010 amidst a grove of ancient live-oak trees, featuring a series of six aesthetically impressive pavilions that include a welcome center, a gallery of African-American art, and an interpretive center inside a reconstruction of the house of emancipated craftsman Pleasant Reed. Current exhibitions include collections from some of the art world's biggest names, including Andy Warhol and ceramic sculptor Jun Kaneko, as well as selections from Ohr's Gulf Coast collection, which inspired the American Modernist movement and several MLB baseball teams to wear ceramic pots instead of baseball hats.
The USS Alabama spent 37 months in active duty during World War II. It earned nine battle stars and never suffered significant damage from enemy fire. Following this illustrious military career, the battleship was set to be scrapped because of the prohibitive cost of maintaining a wartime fleet. But in 1964, Alabama schoolchildren put forth a fierce fundraising campaign and raised $100,000 to save the ship. Their efforts inspired a corporate sponsor to supply the $1 million balance, and the navy donated the ship. And so the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park was born.
Today, the ship rests safe and sound in the harbor—a 680-foot mammoth whose enormous mass displaces more than 44,500 tons of water. More than 13 million visitors have trod its deck, wandered through its passages, and gazed at its 29 16-inch and .38-caliber guns.
Resting alongside the ship, the WWII submarine USS Drum welcomes visitors to explore inside its labyrinthine hull, inviting them to climb through hatches and imagine what life would be like if every doorway were round. The memorial park also houses a cavalcade of military equipment, vehicles, and aircraft on display, including a T-55 Iraqi tank, a Cold War–era Lockheed A-12 Blackbird, and a World War II–era Douglas C-47D Skytrain.
The five flags in front of the Condé-Charlotte Museum House represent Mobile’s tumultuous history under the rule of five countries: France, Spain, Britain, the United States, and the Confederate States. Within the house, visitors can see antique furnishing that correspond to each of these periods in time, with a different theme in each room—for example, the British room holds antiques from 1763–1780, when the British occupied the city. The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Alabama run the house and operate its tours, which traverse both inside and the outdoor, Spanish-themed garden.
Built in 1857, the Southern Market/Old City Hall building served as home to three groups: the mayor and his city council meetings, several local militias, and a food market. Since then, the Italianate building has been deemed a national landmark, and its tenants have been whittled down to one: History Museum of Mobile. With its permanent exhibitions, the museum preserves more than 300 years of Mobile history, starting with the city's first Native American inhabitants. Interactive exhibits and artifacts—including antique silver and a cannon recovered from the CSS Alabama, which sunk during an 1864 battle—usher guests all the way to the present day.
Along with its mainstay exhibitions, the museum hosts events dedicated to film screenings, lectures, and debunking myths purported by Magic 8 Balls. History Museum of Mobile team has also helped open two other historical sites in town, including the Phoenix Fire Museum, which houses horse-drawn steam engines.
With its imposing, slate-gray façade, the 170-year-old U.S. Custom House may be the last building in which you’d expect to hear the delighted squeals of children. But behind the steely columns, the building erupts into 23,000 square feet of colorful displays and fluttering, scuttling insects, courtesy of the Audubon Society and Insectarium. In the Asian garden, hundreds of butterflies dodge shafts of sunlight to alight on tropical ferns and the shoulders of young visitors. And at the Insects of New Orleans gallery, visitors can ogle the pink katydids, cockroaches, and lovebugs that contribute to the city’s heritage.
These bug-filled displays are all part of the insectarium’s mission to conserve Louisiana’s indigenous species and inspire stewardship in its visitors. While adults can sate their curiosity with the vast array of exotic species, curators gear many displays toward young guests by making them lighthearted and interactive: the Field Camp’s entomologist answers questions about how to collect bugs or break up flea-circus strikes, and at Bug Appétit, chefs dole out insect-filled delicacies to adventurous palates.
Founded in 1976 by a group of ambitious visual and performing artists, the Contemporary Arts Center still keeps in touch with its roots as an artist-driven community organization. The award-winning design of its ever-changing gallery, atrium, and theater spaces juxtaposes the original architecture of a turn-of-the-century warehouse building with newer materials and aesthetics. Within its 30,000 feet of open event space, the CAC hosts a range of events, such as curated contemporary exhibitions, world and local music performances, and special galas such as the SweetArts Bash.
When not coordinating exhibitions and performances, the CAC staff also leads educational programs such as one-day art camps, which expose children and adults to the arts. In these programs, professional local artists train groups in drama, dance, music, visual arts, and creative writing.