Treasure art and the outdoors at Museum Park

The Jim and Ann Goodnight Museum Park at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh offers a beautiful spring retreat

In early April, the North Carolina Azalea Festival in Wilmington gave locals and tourists an opportunity to celebrate spring with the coronation of Queen Azalea, a porch parade, a chef series, live performances and more. But the state offers many other opportunities to enjoy all the new season has to offer — one in particular in Raleigh.

Picture this: Art lovers encountering dramatic installations and runners making tracks through the rolling meadows. A Rodin Garden Lily Pond that invites quiet reflection and a sunflower field that induces a flurry of selfies. Children unleashing energy, dogs indulging their walkers (and vice versa) and picnickers unpacking feasts on a table or the expansive lawn. And hard as the giant letters might be to discern up close, the words P-I-C-T-U-R-E T-H-I-S surround an oversize screen and spacious amphitheater where families and the culturally inclined partake of movies, concerts and puppet pageantry.

Welcome to the Jim and Ann Goodnight Museum Park at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. At 164 acres, it’s the largest park of its type in the country. With nearly three dozen permanent and temporary installations, it meets the expectations of those seeking a complement to the works on view inside the museum’s galleries. At the same time, it washes away notions of elitism that often wall people off to museum experiences.

Works in the park range from the monumental “Gyre,” a series of earth-cast rings by Thomas Sayre, to Chris Drury’s tucked-away “Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky,” a walk-in camera obscura. Vollis Simpson’s kinetic “Wind Machine” uses found objects and engineering precision to create childlike joy, while Yinka Shonibare’s vibrant “Wind Sculpture II” ripples in the mind’s eye. Like the seasons, come-and-go installations change the landscape and keep the view interesting. While strolling among the installations, visitors can see the terraced pond and irrigation system working silently to address the museum’s sustainability goals.

Museum Park visitors can also discover a rare bright spot born in a summer marred by COVID-19: the opening of ACR at the Park. In a new partnership between the museum and Ashley Christensen Restaurants, ACR at The Park offers breakfast, lunch and dinner boxes to enjoy on the grounds or elsewhere. The inventive fare draws on recipes from Christensen’s downtown restaurants, which earned her Outstanding Chef honors from the James Beard Foundation, and features ingredients from such celebrated Raleigh artisans as Boulted Bread and Videri Chocolate Factory.

For pedestrians who want to add mileage to an outing, the park serves as a terminus for the City of Raleigh’s Art to Heart Corridor. The 5.9-mile path uses greenway trails and a couple of streets to connect the museum to Meredith University, N.C. State University’s main campus, Pullen Park and the heart of town.