On November 7, 1883, an exhibition of 453 works by 137 artists opened at the English Hotel on the downtown Indianapolis Circle. It was the first exhibition organized by the Art Association of Indianapolis, which well-known suffragette May Wright Sewell, her husband Theodore, and a small group of art-minded citizens had formed a few months earlier. In the process, they wrote the mission statement that spelled out their intentions. The success of that exhibition, which attracted sizable crowds throughout its three-week run, established the Art Association as a viable factor in the local cultural scene and led to more exhibitions, as well as lectures and eventually a campus featuring both a museum and an art school.

Though the Sewalls were never timid about dreaming big, even they would be shocked to see what the small group they helped found 130 years ago has become. Since the Art Association of Indianapolis changed its name to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1969—a precursor to its move the following year from its longtime home on the campus of the John Herron Art Institute at 16th and Pennsylvania streets into a new building at 38th Street and Michigan Road—the organization has evolved into the fifth largest encyclopedic art museum in the country, with active exhibition and education programs that far surpass anything the Art Association’s founders could have imagined.

Historical Highlights

1883 - May Wright Sewall, principal of the Girls’ Classical School of Indianapolis, and 17 other residents of the city signed articles of incorporation to found the Art Association of Indianapolis. As the Art Association’s membership increased over several decades, so did its diverse collection.

1895 - The Association learned it would receive $225,000 from the estate of Indianapolis real estate investor John Herron to build a permanent art gallery and school.

1902 - The John Herron Art Institute opened in temporary quarters in a home at 16th and Pennsylvania Streets, the site on which the Association intended to build. The art school was established.

1906 - The John Herron Art Institute formally opened in its permanent home, a building designed by Arthur Bohn of the Indianapolis firm Vonnegut & Bohn, on November 20.

1908 - A new art school building, also designed by Vonnegut & Bohn, opened directly north of what was henceforth known as the Museum building.

1910 - The John Herron Art Institute presented a memorial exhibition of the works of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, known for his public commissions honoring Civil War heroes of the North. Attendance totaled 56,574.

1927 - Sixteen civic leaders founded the Gamboliers. For the next few years they gambled on "promising artists," adding works by Modigliani, Pendergast, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others to the collection – 167 works in all, for a little more than $2,000.

1929 - A new and larger school building, designed by renowned architect Paul Phillipe Cret, opened, funded anonymously by board member Caroline Marmon Fesler.

1937 - Author Booth Tarkington, Muncie industrialist Frank Ball, and Eli Lilly & Company research director Dr. George J. A. Clowes were among the lenders to an exhibition of paintings and prints by Dutch Masters, including Rembrandt, Hals, Ruisdael, Steen, and Vermeer. Attendance for this exhibition exceeded 34,000.

1943 - Art Association president Caroline Marmon Fesler made the first in a remarkable series of gifts to the collection. Over the years, Fesler gave paintings by Hobbema, Cuyp, Corneille de Lyon, Seurat, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Picasso.

1947 - Eli Lilly made the first of his gifts of Chinese art. Between 1947 and 1961, he purchased about 200 bronzes, ceramics, jades and paintings for the Museum’s collection.

1962 - An addition to the School building opened, designed by Evans Woollen III and funded through the bequest of Caroline Marmon Fesler.

1964 - Out of space in the Museum and with no land upon which to build, the board hired development consultants G. A. Brakeley & Company to advise on fundraising and also on a new site for the museum and possibly also the school. News that some sites outside downtown were being considered prompted a firestorm of public criticism. When the Brakeley Report was received, the board was advised to build downtown unless they were given land elsewhere "free and clear."

1966 - Early in the year, the board learned that the Herron School of Art had lost its accreditation. Negotiations began with Indiana University to transfer the school to IUPUI, and board chairman Herman Krannert explored moving the Museum to the IUPUI campus. But in October, Ruth Lilly and Josiah K. Lilly donated their parents’ estate, Oldfields, to the Art Association, to be used as a site for a new museum.

1967 - The Herron School of Art became part of Indiana University, IUPUI campus, on July 1. The home of the Josiah K. Lilly Jr. family opened to the public as the Lilly Pavilion of Decorative Arts.

1969 - The Art Association changed its name to Indianapolis Museum of Art.

1970 - Krannert Pavilion, the first in a series of pavilions planned for the new Indianapolis Museum of Art, opened October 25 on the IMA’s new Michigan Road campus. Krannert Pavilion, and later the Clowes and Showalter Pavilions, were designed by Ambrose Richardson, with landscape design by Sasaki, Dawson, DeMay & Associates.

1972 - Clowes Pavilion opened a memorial to Edith Whitehill Clowes. A bequest of approximately $1 million from Mrs. Grace Showalter was received to build Showalter Pavilion, a theater that would be the home of the Indianapolis Civic Theatre. The Sutphin Fountain was dedicated.

1975 - During a decade of rampant inflation, the IMA began to build an operating endowment with the goal of accumulating $35 to $40 million by the Museum’s 100th anniversary in 1983.

1979 - The Museum received W. J. Holliday’s collection of Neo-Impressionist paintings, now the largest public collection of Neo-Impressionist paintings in the U.S. The largest collection of works by J. M. W. Turner outside Great Britain, amassed over many years by Indianapolis attorney Kurt F. Pantzer, became a permanent part of the collection.

1987 - In connection with the Pan American Games, the Museum organized Art of the Fantastic: Latin America 1920–1987, the first large-scale presentation of twentieth-century Latin American art in the United States in over 20 years

1990 - The IMA’s Mary Fendrich Hulman Pavilion opened, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes. Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Eiteljorg donated their collections of African and South Pacific Art, numbering more than 1,500 works, to the Museum.

1997 - Through a combination of gift and purchase, the IMA acquired 101 works by Gauguin and the School of Pont-Aven from the collection of Samuel Josefowitz.

1999 - The Clowes Collection, including 100 works Rembrandt, Rubens, El Greco, Cranach, Jan Breugal, Constable, Claude, and other European masters, was committed to the Museum by the Clowes Fund. IMA announced plans to create an Art & Nature park on 100 acres of property west of the main campus.

2000 - The Museum acquired 75 hanging scrolls and folding screens representing major artists and styles of Japan’s Edo period.

2002 - The IMA unveiled the newly restored mansion. A National Historic Landmark, Oldfields-Lilly House & Gardens is notable as one of the Midwest’s outstanding examples of an intact American country place estate. The IMA also broke ground for a $74 million Museum expansion project designed to improve visitor services and increase access to the collections. Architect for the project was Jonathan Hess of Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf.

2004 - Concluding a two-year national search, the IMA selected landscape architect Edward Blake of The Landscape Studio, Hattiesburg, Miss., and architect Marlon Blackwell of Marlon Blackwell Architect, Fayetteville, Ark., to design and oversee the creation of the IMA’s The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres.

2005 - The New IMA opened to the public May 5 and featured the new Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion, Wood Gallery Pavilion and Deer Zink Special Events Pavilion.

2006 - On July 1, the IMA announced receipt of an $11 million challenge grant from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation for development of The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres. The European galleries reopened December 3, marking the official completion of the Museum’s expansion and renovation project.

2007 - The IMA announced 10 artists and collectives selected to create works for the The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, including artists Kendall Buster, Los Carpinteros, Jeppe Hein, Alfredo Jaar, Sam Easterson, Tea Mäkipää, Type A, Atelier Van Lieshout, and Andrea Zittel.

2010- The IMA opened the doors to Miller House and Garden in Columbus, Indiana.