Built in 1925, Speed Art Museum was Kentucky’s first art museum. The museum was founded by Hattie Bishop Speed in honor of her late husband, and the museum’s namesake, James Breckinridge Speed. Originally known as the J.B. Speed Memorial Museum, this memorial to the Louisville businessman and philanthropist has grown and expanded its collection over the years and is the largest art museum in Kentucky.

The original building was designed by Louisville architect Arthur Loomis, and was opened to the public in January 1927. Since then, the museum has undergone five expansions, including a recent major expansion that added a cinema screening room.

1.Permanent Collections

Permanent Collections
© Speed Art Museum

Speed Art Museum holds permanent collections of art from ancient cultures all over the world.This collection includes earthenware from the Han and Tang Dynasties of China, sculptures from ancient Egypt and Rome and even stoneware from ancient Greece.These pieces are not only beautifully crafted, they also have enormous historical significance as they are all at least 2000 years old.

African and Native American Textile Art. Exquisitely beaded textiles from Native American Ojibwa, Cree, and Lakota artists are included in this collection. These examples of superb, detail craftsmanship where acquired by the museum in the 1930’s and were created in the mid-19th century.Finely detailed textile and ceremonial artifacts from the 17th, 18th and 19th century African artists are also included in the permanent collection.A ceremonial sword, beautifully carved wooden panels, and beaded costumes created by Yoruba, Kuba, and Fang artists where acquired for this collection.These exhibits are culturally significant pieces of art, as they represent artifacts used in important rituals.

European and American Art from the past 700 years is also included in the collection.Hand written books, classical paintings, engravings, and sculptures from Medieval and Renaissance Europe have been acquired over the years.Portraits and oil paintings from 16th and 17th century artists are included, as well as decorative arts from 18th and 19th century European and American artists.Contemporary art includes film exhibitions, photography, textile art, and mixed media pieces.

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2.Current Exhibitions

Current Exhibitions
© Speed Art Museum

Exhibitions have included contemporary art with pop culture themes, modern interpretations of classic art pieces in the museum’s permanent collection, and collections that capture changes in American, African, and European cultures.

Anniversary Exhibition, features a collection of unique pieces that celebrate the museum’s history.

There is also a collection of contemporary art that was recently gifted to the museum that features debuts from 21 artists, and a unique exhibit inspired by the Chinese astrological calendar.

Upcoming exhibits include Native American art and contemporary art from the southern United States.

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3.Education and Involvement

Education and Involvement
© Speed Art Museum

The Speed Art Museum offers adult workshops, university programs, and activities for children and youth. Art Sparks is and interactive gallery for all ages, and is especially geared towards helping people understand and appreciate art. The Art Sparks experience also includes activities so visitors can make their own creative works. There are also school tours that either bring art workshops to classrooms or offer tours to school groups at the museum.

Programs like Art Detectives and Art Underground are brought to schools to encourage observation and improve critical thinking skills through the exploration of art.

Programs for youth development include art camps, preschool programs, and activities to promote teen involvement. Each program has been created to provide age-appropriate activities so children can have a fun learning experience. Hands-on activities are designed to promote creative expression and generate an interest in art. Side-by-side workshops for children and parents are offered, as well as tours that are specially designed to appeal to children’s interests. Special tours have themes like colors and shapes, story time, the five senses, and animals.

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4.Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit
© Speed Art Museum

University programs include specially guided tours, special activities for faculty, and opportunities to create tailored programs for groups of students. Docent guided tours are free for students of the University of Louisville, Bellarmine University, and the Kentucky College of Art and Design. Activities for University faculty are also offered in order to foster relationships between Universities and the Speed Art Museum.

Community outreach programs have been created to promote collaborative works of art for display at the museum and to provide educational opportunities to underserved communities. Adult programs include Social Speed-a special night featuring art activities, music, and drinks, and workshops to educate attendees in different artistic techniques. Docent guided tours are offered to groups, and are led by a trained volunteer. These docents give information and perspective to help visitors connect with works of art.

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2035 S 3rd St, Louisville, KY 40208, Phone: 502-634-2700

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Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky: Speed Art Museum