A Premier Collection in the Heart of North Carolina
With unique exhibits and affordable access, the North Carolina Museum of Art is a major draw for in-state and out-of-state residents alike.
The museum’s permanent collection and 164-acre park are open to the public, free of charge. The permanent collection offers art from a wide range of periods, including an Egyptian through 21st century American.
“The museum’s collection contains some of the finest examples of creativity and artistic excellence from ancient Egypt to the modern world,” said Larry Wheeler, Director of the North Carolina Museum of Art.
The story of the impressive collection started in 1924 when the North Carolina State Art Society was formed with the mission to get people talking about the need for a state art museum. After a series of art acquisitions by the society, the state legislature appropriated $1 million in response to an anonymous challenge grant. Unheard of at that time, the $1 million was used to purchase over 100 works of art for the people of North Carolina, with the Kress Foundation matching the investment with a donation of 70 works of art.
The first museum’s doors opened in 1956 on Morgan Street in downtown Raleigh, but they quickly outgrew the space. In 1983, the current museum opened on Blue Ridge Road with the expansive park opening in 1999.
Wheeler joined the museum as director in 1994 and has been a part of the museum’s continued growth. Today, the museum offers a gift shop, restaurant, and regularly welcomes special collections for visitors. In a recent 20th anniversary commemoration on the museum’s website, Wheeler noted that during his tenure, the staff size has doubled and the budget tripled with annual attendance around 350,000 people a year.
“Witnessing the excitement and smiles of visitors is one of my favorite parts about being involved with the museum,” said Wheeler.
Equally impressive is a 2010 renovation that now provided an additional 127,000-square-feet of exhibit space in a modern design aesthetic.
Pope Foundation support
In keeping with continued support for arts in North Carolina, the John William Pope Foundation was proud to add the museum to its grantee list in 2013. A $25,000 gift, earmarked for the museum’s “School Bus Scholarship Fund,” allowed the museum to expand the program’s footprint.
The School Bus Scholarship Fund launched in 2008 and offers public schools with a high percentage of free or reduced lunches, the opportunity to receive transportation assistance. This allows about 1,000 students to have access to fine arts that they might not normally have.
“For students at schools like mine, money for transportation can be the make or break part of planning a field trip,” said T. Sharon Saunders, an arts teacher at Southwest Elementary School in Lexington, North Carolina. “And these are the students who can really benefit from experiencing a world outside their daily one.”
The Pope Foundation renewed additional support for the museum in 2014 with a grant of $10,000.
The intersection of arts
Utilizing the museum park, the North Carolina Museum of Art has been offering outdoor concerts and films since 1997. Additionally, chamber music concerts produced in conjunction with the Raleigh Chamber Guild, art history classes, programs for seniors, and Family Fun Saturdays ensure that diverse populations get to experience the museum in personally meaningful ways.
For many, the most impressive thing is how it’s done with little cost to the people of North Carolina.
“The North Carolina Museum of Art raises 70 percent of their funds from the private sector and gets only 30 percent in public funding,” said Becki Gray, a museum board of trustee member and vice president of outreach at the John Locke Foundation. “To me, that’s a strong signal that people across the state recognize the value of the museum and are willing to support it with their money.”
In December 2014, the park unveiled its latest plans for the extensive campus. The plans will include redesigning some outdoor space by creating new trails, installing additional works of outdoor art, and reworking the main entrance and other infrastructure. The first phase of the project is slated to start in spring 2015.
The museum’s recent and upcoming exhibits have also garnered major attention. The “Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Their Contemporaries” (open until January 4, 2015), featured the only two Vermeer paintings to ever be exhibited in the state. In October 2015, the museum expects to display the largest M.C. Escher collection ever presented with approximately 120 woodcuts, lithographs, wood engravings, and mezzotints.
Comprehensive and unique exhibits coupled with exciting plans for growth and new features surely will bring the North Carolina Museum of Art continued success for years to come.