The Knoxville Museum of Art celebrates East Tennessee’s rich, diverse visual culture and its connections to the wider currents of world art.
The Knoxville Museum of Art celebrates East Tennessee’s rich, diverse visual culture and its connections to the wider currents of world art. The KMA values diversity and inclusion in exhibitions, programs, staff, volunteers, visitors, and stakeholders; warmly welcomes and embraces all; operates ethically, responsibly, and transparently as a public trust; enhances the community’s quality of life; and strives to meet people where they are, to encourage life-long learning and engagement.
The KMA’s predecessor, the Dulin Gallery of Art, opened in 1961 in the elegant Dulin House, a 1915 John Russel Pope architectural masterpiece located in a residential neighborhood on the west side of Knoxville. It was here that the institutional “DNA” of the KMA as an outwardly-focused, education-oriented, community-rooted organization first took shape. By the early 1980s, it was evident that, in order to reach out to and serve a growing and increasingly diverse community, the Dulin would have to expand, or move its operations to more accessible and spacious quarters. The City of Knoxville offered a tract of land on the downtown site of the 1982 World’s Fair, and an ambitious community effort raised $11 million to construct a new, state-of-the-art building, designed by renowned American architect Edward Larrabee Barnes. In March 1990 the Knoxville Museum of Art opened in its current 53,200 square-foot facility. 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 locally quarried pink Tennessee marble.
In the decades since the museum opened, its programming has evolved to become increasingly focused on the rich culture, old and new, of the Southern Appalachians. Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee, a permanent exhibition of works from the mid-nineteenth to the late-twentieth century, spotlights the compelling and heretofore largely unknown visual arts legacy of Knoxville and the region. Each year, this installation draws more and more from the museum’s growing holdings of works by artists with ties to East Tennessee, including Knoxville natives Catherine Wiley and Beauford Delaney. To this has been added a permanent exhibition of modern and contemporary art. Currents: Recent Art from East Tennessee and Beyond features a selection of objects from the KMA’s growing collection of works by emerging and established artists and represents a chronological and geographic expansion of Higher Ground that allows viewers to consider the achievements of area artists within a global context. Facets of Modern and Contemporary Glass showcases the KMA’s growing holdings of 20th– and 21st-century glass. A permanent installation of nine Thorne Rooms, from a series of miniature historic interiors created in the 1930s and later acquired by the Dulin Gallery, provides a tangible link to the KMA’s early history. The museum supplements and complements its core permanent installations with a lively schedule of temporary exhibitions that explore aspects of regional culture and its relation to national and international artistic developments. The KMA’s permanent and temporary exhibitions are supported by a full menu of educational programming, including school tours, workshops, outreach programs, lectures, concerts, and family activities. More than 70,000 people visit annually. Outreach to area schools, particularly those in economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods, reaches another 10,000 young people annually. Admission to the KMA is always free. Free admission is a core institutional value that creates a friendly exchange at the front door and helps communicate the message that everyone is welcome.
In spring 2014 the museum unveiled a permanent, monumental glass installation by acclaimed Knoxville artist Richard Jolley, a powerful affirmation of the KMA’s commitment to the art and artists of our region. Cycle of Life: Within the Power of Dreams and the Wonder of Infinity, the generous gift of Ann and Steve Bailey, is the largest figural glass installation in the world. In preparation for this epochal milestone in the KMA’s history, the museum underwent a comprehensive, top-to-bottom restoration and renovation at a cost of nearly $6 million. These vital repairs and upgrades will ensure the preservation and enjoyment of Edward Larrabee Barnes’ modernist masterpiece as it moves into its second quarter-century. The campaign also supported endowment enhancement and the establishment of a dedicated art acquisition fund. That fund enabled the KMA to achieve another institutional milestone in 2018 when it served as the nucleus for a major fundraising effort to purchase a group of major paintings from the Beauford Delaney estate. The museum now boasts the world’s largest public collection of this important African American artist’s work. Many of the KMA’s key Delaney works were shown for the first time in 2020 in Beauford Delaney & James Baldwin: Through the Unusual Door, a groundbreaking exhibition examining Delaney’s development through the lens of his intense 38-year friendship with Baldwin. Through the Unusual Door drew national attention to the KMA’s exceptional Delaney holdings, affirmed the validity of the museum’s strategic focus on East Tennessee artists, and broadcast to our community and to the world the global significance of East Tennessee’s visual arts legacy.
Reinforcing and strengthening the museum’s focus on the art and artists of East Tennessee and diversifying its collection, programming, and audiences are central to the KMA’s current strategic agenda. To those ends, the museum plans to completely rethink, enlarge, and reinstall Higher Ground, the museum’s signature permanent exhibition, first opened in 2008. The KMA now has a significantly bigger, richer, and more diverse collection to present. In particular, the new installation, projected to open in the fall of 2023, will enable the museum to devote significantly more space to its greatly expanded holdings of works by Knoxville natives Beauford and Joseph Delaney, and will also feature a stronger interpretive component to engage visitors more fully.
The KMA’s approximately $2 million annual operating budget comes (in approximate order of magnitude) from individuals, businesses, and foundations; museum memberships; earned income; local, state, and federal government; endowment income; and annual fundraising events. More than 300 volunteers donate in excess of 15,000 volunteer hours each year, and special membership groups—the KMA Guild, Art House, and Collectors Circle—provide vital support and service opportunities for members. The KMA operates solidly in the black and is committed to the highest ethical and professional standards. The museum was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 1996 and reaccredited in 2005 and 2015.
Board of Trustees
Patricia Brake Rutenberg
Caesar Stair IV
EX OFFICIO TRUSTEES
David Butler (Executive Director)
Barbara W. Bernstein (Honorary Trustee)
James L. Clayton (Honorary Trustee)
Bob and Marie Alcorn (Collectors Circle)
Tammy Kaousias (Legal Counsel)
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OFFICERS
Chair: Julia Bentley
Chair-Elect: Taylor Wortham
Secretary: June Heller
Treasurer: Steve Bailey
Immediate Past Chair: Caesar Stair IV
STANDING COMMITTEE CHAIRS
Building & Grounds: Jay McBride
Archives: Terry Wertz
Collection & Exhibitions: Molly Joy
Development: Karen Mann
Education: Rosalyn Tillman
Finance: Steve Bailey
Guild: Emily Cox/Johnnie Creel
Human Resources: Debbie Jones
Marketing: Courtney Jernigan
Trustees: Taylor Wortham
Volunteer Advisory Council: Kitsy Hartley
MEMBERS AT LARGE