The Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA) celebrates the art and artists of East Tennessee, presents new art and new ideas, educates and serves a diverse community, and enhances Knoxville’s quality of life.
The KMA’s predecessor, the Dulin Gallery of Art, opened in 1961. By the middle 1980s the gallery had outgrown its quarters in the 1915 Dulin House, a landmark design of John Russell Pope, which also lacked adequate parking and public transportation access. A major community effort raised $11 million for a state-of-the-art facility overlooking the site of the 1982 World’s Fair in downtown Knoxville. In March 1990, the Knoxville Museum of Art opened in its current 53,200 square-foot facility, designed by renowned museum architect Edward Larrabee Barnes. The exterior of the four-story steel and concrete building, named in honor of Jim Clayton, the largest single contributor to its construction, is sheathed in the pink Tennessee marble quarried near Knoxville.
Since its opening, the KMA has presented a lively and engaging schedule of exhibitions (see Past Exhibitions), and more recently has also begun to focus on the rich visual traditions its own region. The foundation of this strategic initiative is a permanent installation, Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee, which features works from the KMA collection as well as loans from individuals and institutions. Opened in 2008, the installation constitutes an important milestone in the museum’s short history and reflects a growing awareness of and pride in the area’s rich cultural history. Annual exhibitions of significant regional contemporary artists bring the story up to the present, and exhibitions of emerging artists of national and international reputation acquaint local audiences with worldwide developments in contemporary art. A growing collection of paintings, works on paper, sculpture, glass, and new media works focuses on East Tennessee artists past and present, and contemporary art from all over.
Museum tours, workshops, artist residencies, outreach programs, lectures, concerts, classroom programs, and family activities form the core of the museum's educational programming. The KMA reaches over 60,000 annually through museum visits, special events, concerts (including the long-running Alive After Five series), and other programs. In addition, thousands attend special events sponsored by other community groups held at the museum, which offers reduced or free rental to other not-for-profits.