The Tyler Museum of Art operates to provide for the collection, study, exhibition, and interpretation of 19th, 20th and 21st-century art. The Tyler Museum of Art is an independent, non-profit institution operating for the benefit of the public.
In April 1952, the Tyler Service League formed the first Community Arts Committee. Since there was not an art museum within one hundred miles of Tyler, they knew there were many children who had no opportunity to see and know works of art. "Picture Ladies" took prints to the fifth and sixth grade classrooms, rotating the prints once each week. This program continued and in 1960, they purchased the property known as the Jamie T. Smith home and remodeled the house for traveling exhibitions, a children's arts and crafts program, reading program, and story hour. In December 1965, the League sold the Art Center property and agreed to set aside funds to establish an art museum project and sought the erection of an art museum building on the Tyler Junior College campus. In 1968, the lease negotiations were completed with Tyler Junior College. Through the efforts of the Junior League of Tyler funds were raised and construction of the museum was begun in February 1970.
The museum was incorporated as a separate organization and a Board of Trustees was elected. The museum opened to the public on March 21, 1971. The architect was E. Davis Wilcox of Tyler. Mrs. Henry Bell, Jr., Mrs. Harold Cameron, Mrs. Ralph Spence, and Mrs. Russell Watson, Jr., served on the first Museum Board of Trustees.
The building contains two major temporary exhibition galleries of approximately 5,000 square feet and a third gallery on the upper level. Workshop and classroom facilities are located on the lower level. The two-story building includes 17,000 square feet. One gallery is named in honor of the museum's founding president, Nell Bell, and is called the Bell Gallery. The second floor gallery is called the Carmichael Gallery in memory of Miss Michael Carmichael of Tyler's Juried Art, Inc.
A museum library and meeting room is located next to the Carmichael Gallery. During the 1970s, significant effort established the 1500 volume resource. Grants from the Fair Foundation and Nancy Lake were instrumental in the acquisition of books.
The museum's small, but very focused, permanent collection began in the 1970s. One of the earliest acquisitions was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. F.L. Carmichael, a sculpture by Charles Umlauf. The majority of its holdings are of contemporary American artists. The Museum, beginning with its first director, Robert Kjorlien, made special efforts to recognize strong, emerging artists in the region. Among the artists who were later recognized nationally after attention from the Tyler Museum of Art are James Surls, Vernon Fisher, and Clyde Connell. Works by each of these artists are in the collection. Important gifts from Vernon and Amy Faulconer, and a grant from Dayton-Hudson (Target Stores) have provided stimulus to the recent collection efforts. There are over 500 items in the collection.
The museum has established an active tour program for area schools which is administered by trained docents under the supervision of the curator of education who also serves as an advocate for art curriculum in the schools. Since 1978, the museum has maintained an agreement with TISD to provide tours for all 4th and 5th grade students. In addition, the museum offers a wide range of activities, including lectures, gallery talks, musical and theatrical performances, and activities specifically for children.