The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina is an impressive collection of buildings that house an equally impressive collection of art work, all built upon an impressive history of grass roots organization and government and municipal cooperation. One could take a day long walk through the museum’s expansive collection of artwork from around the world and leave suitably impressed. But the unique history of the organization deserves its own recognition, and its success is valuable resource for the citizens and visitors of North Carolina and the surrounding areas.

The North Carolina Museum of Art features a collection that covers over five thousand years of human creative output. It houses over 40 galleries, an outdoor amphitheater, and a museum park that spans an incredible 164 acres, making it the nation’s largest. Its energy efficient campus has gone through a number of expansions and renovations to make it one of the most respected museums in the United States.


© North Carolina Museum of Art

Way back in 1924, the North Carolina State Art Society was formed with a mission to create a movement toward establishing an art museum in the North Carolina. Local businessman Robert F. Phifer donated about 75 paintings and funding in 1928 and within a year the first temporary art installations were set up in the Raleigh Agriculture Building.

Famous philanthropist Samuel H. Kress anonymously funded a challenge grant in 1947 for the purchase of a collection of art work, which led to the state legislature appropriating $1 million in a move that made national headlines and resulting from a contentious legislative session during which a proponent of the funding bill, Representative John Kerr, was famously quoted as saying, “Mr. Speaker, I know I am facing a hostile audience, but man cannot live by bread alone.”

The million-dollar legislative appropriation was ultimately used to purchase 139 paintings and sculptures from European and American artists. Samuel Kress’s foundation added to the collection with a matching $1 million donation and 70 works of art comprised mainly of pieces dating back to the Italian Renaissance. The gift proved to be one of the largest and most preeminent donations in the nation and established the North Carolina Museum of Art’s reputation as among the most elite in the world.

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2.More History

More History
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In the spring of 1956, the North Carolina Museum of Art opened in a new space, the renovated warehouse on Morgan Street that formerly housed the State Highway Division building in the capital city of Raleigh. Nicknamed the “Miracle on Morgan Street” by the local news outlets, the museum was the first in the United States to be established using funding from the state legislature.

Within a decade the North Carolina Museum of Art had outgrown the Morgan Street building, and sought one that was properly equipped to attend to the temperature needs of the antiquated artwork. In 1967 the state legislature created a commission to select a new location and oversee construction of a new building. The commission chose an antebellum era location on Blue Ridge Road.

The new site was designed by Edward Dureell Stone and focused on the square as a central unit, basing the spaces off of permutations of the square form. The new building finally opened to the public in 1983.

In the year 2000, the North Carolina Museum of Art began to create a vision for a new building that embraced sustainable principles and design, and over the course of the following two years the West Building was conceived. The new building was an impressive structure incorporating glass walls around its 127,000 square feet of exhibition space and embracing green technologies such as rain water catchment and runoff control, climate controlled galleries and spaces, energy efficient systems, and sustainable and environmentally sound landscaping choices.

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© North Carolina Museum of Art

The North Carolina Museum of Art offers guests a look at artwork from the breadth of the human experience, from all over the expanse of human history and geography.

The permanent collection contains a major holding of works of art that include pieces from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. Works in the collection include examples from the Italian Renaissance, Greek and Roman sculptures and vase paintings and Egyptian funerary art. The museum houses selections of American art from over the last three centuries as well as contemporary art from around the world. International artworks include pieces from ancient American, pre-Columbian, African, and Oceanic and Jewish cultural objects.

The North Carolina Museum of Art’s African collection, started in the seventies, includes wood, metal and textile items from the Benin Kingdom, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Chokwe and Luba peoples of central Africa.

American works in the museum’s permanent collection include colonial portraits from renowned portraitist John Singleton Copley all the way through selections from American Impressionism.

The museum collects ancient American works with a special focus on three geographic and cultural locations, particularly Mesoamerica, Central America and the Andes, and examining the social and cultural legacies of the Maya.

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4.More Things to See

More Things to See
© North Carolina Museum of Art

The North Carolina Museum of Art houses a collection of Egyptian artifacts that cover the important eras of its history, spanning time from the predynastic era all the way to the Roman period. With an emphasis on funerary works, the thirty-eight works in the museum’s collection include canopic jars, sevant statues and even painted coffins.

The bulk of the museum’s collection is comprised of European paintings and sculpture. Regarded as one of the premiere collections of such work in the United States. While much of the collection is notable paintings, the museum also houses over thirty bronze works by Auguste Rodin.

Famous European and American artists are represented in a number of the galleries, and include Anthony van Dyck, Thomas Gainsborough, Eugene Boudin, Camille Pissarro, and Claude Monet. Highlights form Italian works from the 16th through 18th centuries include works from Titian and Raphael.

The NCMA’s European collection extends into the famous Northern European artists of the Flemish and Dutch schools. Artists in the collection include Jan Steen, Jan Brueghel the Elder, and Peter Paul Rubens.

The museum’s modern art collection includes a variety of works that range from German modernists like Franz Kline and American artists including Alberto Giacometti.

The North Carolina Museum of Art’s Jewish art collection is one of only two such exhibits in the nation, and includes ceremonial and devotional works form Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Oriental traditions of Judaism.

The museum expansive and encyclopedic collection includes contemporary works that cover the gamut of new media, including photographs, video, and installation.

The 164-acre Museum Park is the largest in the United States and is an environmentally conscious landscape that aims to merge art with the natural environment. A variety of natural land features including streams, forests and fields act as the venue for over a dozen site-specific art installations. Two miles of trails connects the works and the land around them.

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© North Carolina Museum of Art

The North Carolina Museum of Art contains a Museum Store that allows visitors to take a piece of the art world home with them. The store offers art books, exhibition catalogues, and unique design pieces as well as toys and educational materials for children and young learners to get involved with.

The museum’s full-service restaurant, Iris, offers guests a chance to refuel with dishes that celebrate American cuisine with a local and regional flair. Chef Andy and Jennifer Hicks take pride in using locally sourced ingredients that offer complex and international flavors.

The North Carolina Museum of Art has a bevy of programming opportunites for the public to get engaged. It maintains a full calendar of events that cover a range of media and topics, including a monthly book club, a variety of educational lectures, studios and online courses, summer camps and festivals.

The NCMA’s outdoor movie festival incorporates a cutting edge digital projection system and uses both 35mm and digital formats. Films offered include award winning movies and family oriented films.

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6.Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit
© North Carolina Museum of Art

The North Carolina Museum of Art is easily accessible from all of the major highways and expressways in the area. From Wade Avenue, simply take the exit for Blue Ridge Road until you reach the museum. If taking the 440, exit east onto Lake Boone Trail and follow that until you reach Blue Ridge Road. Take a left on the Blue Ridge and then follow it south until you reach the museum. The museum offer free onsite parking for all guests, on the right side after entering the museum drive. All parking is ADA compliant and fully wheelchair accessible.

A number of hotels are located nearby, including Homewood Suites, the Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites, Courtyard, Residence Inn, Hyatt Place Raleigh West, and the Umstead Hotel and Spa.

The North Carolina Museum of Art is available to accommodate rental events for a variety of sizes. The museum’s restaurant Iris provides catering services for all events and the museum also offers rental and floral services, musical bookings and audio visual coordination. Museum spaces range from lobbies and galleries, to conference rooms, auditoriums, boardrooms, atriums, patios and halls.

2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27607 Phone: Phone: 919-839-6262

Back to: Things to Do in Raleigh, Things to do in North Carolina

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Things to Do in Raleigh: North Carolina Museum of Art