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Featuring a collection of more than 54,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years, an early 20th century estate, 152 acres of gardens and grounds, and an outdoor art and nature park, the Indianapolis Museum of Art is among the 10 largest and oldest general art museums in the nation. The Museum dates back to November 7th, 1883, when the English Hotel in downtown Indianapolis displayed 453 works of art by 137 artists. This exhibition, organized by the Art Association of Indianapolis, attracted large crowds and prompted continual interest and artistic exploration throughout the city. Changing its name from the Art Association of Indianapolis to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1969 and moving to its current location on Michigan Road, the Museum stands as the Indianapolis’s greatest artistic and encyclopedic treasure, prompting interest and education in world arts as well as history and culture. Its collection includes African, American, Asian, and European works of art, with special emphasis placed on Neo-impressionist paintings, works from the Japanese Edo period, Chinese ceramics, and prints from Paul Gaugin and the Pont-Aven School. In addition to its vast collection and permanent and changing exhibits, the Indianapolis Museum of Art supports two libraries and a variety of research programs, ranging from WWII-era provenance to Conservation Sciences. The Indianapolis Museum of Art is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

  • Front entrance to the museum
  • The Clowes Pavilion in the Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Love sculpture outside the museum

History of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

In the summer of 1883, well-known suffragist May Wright Sewell and her husband, Theodore, as well as 17 other art-minded locals in Indianapolis, formed the Art Association of Indianapolis. The culmination of this group didn’t come out of the blue, however, as May Wright Sewell and Theodore were prominent reformers dedicated to bettering education, women’s rights, and world peace, and they were the original founders of the Girls' Classical School in Indianapolis the year before. 

By November of 1883, after months of hard work contacting and organizing local and nationally renowned artists, the Art Association of Indianapolis held a large exhibition in the English Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. The exhibition featured 453 works from 137 artists, and the community’s response to the exhibition was nothing less than inspiring for the Association. May and the other founders drafted the Association’s mission statement afterwards. 

Also, based off this success, the Indianapolis community established the Association as a respected factor on the cultural scene, which ultimately led to more exhibitions as well as lectures. The increase in membership and the growth of its collection led Indianapolis real estate investor, John Herron, to donate $225,000 from his estate with the goal of establishing a permanent art gallery and school. 

The John Herron Art Institute then opened in a temporary home in 1902, and in 1906, the Institute opened in a permanent location designed by renowned architect, Arthur Bohn of Vonnegut & Bohn. Two years later, the art school opened, and throughout the 20th century, many prominent exhibitions featuring the works of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Rembrandt, Matisse, Vermeer, and many others drew great esteem to the institute throughout the larger region. 

By 1969, the institute changed its name to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and its collection continued to expand to African and Asian works, most notably the Chinese ceramics and scrolls and folding screens from the Edo period.1 

1.) History, Indianapolis Museum of Art, accessed August 22, 2015,

Robinson, Anne P.; S.L. Berry (2008). Every Way Possible: 125 Years of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Indianapolis Museum of Art.