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 Sewall, 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.

In 1969, the Art Association changed its name to the Indianapolis Museum of Art— 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 Sewalls would likely be proud of how the small group that helped found more than 130 years ago has grown. The Art Association has evolved into one of the largest art museums in the country, with 5,000 years of art history and active exhibition and education programs that far surpass anything the Art Association’s founders could have imagined. The Museum is now complemented by the Oldfields estate thanks to the generosity of the Lilly family, adding beautiful and historic nature to the art. Located on the 152-acre Newfields campus, the IMA is surrounded by historic landscapes, gardens, performance spaces, and an art and nature park, home to wetlands, woodlands, and outdoor sculptures.


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.

  • Sewall, in an account of these formative years, wrote, “Nothing is so cosmopolitan in its tendency as art; where it flourishes, the provincial spirit declines; sect and party lines become faint as it becomes dominant. The art spirit is by no means dominant in Indianapolis, but it is felt as a vital force.” –note about mission to improve lives

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.

  • “Mr. Herron seems to have been impressed with the fact that it was necessary for humanity to get away from the absorbing business of life, to yield for a little while to the influences of art and nature.”—Indianapolis Art Association member commemorating John Herron, 1905 note about mission of art and nature

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.

  • 1947 six women completed training toserve as volunteer guides for visiting school groups and the museum’s well-respected docent program was born. The docent program grew through a partnership with the Junior League of Indianapolis that lasted over 30 years. Now the program has grown 120+ docents
  • 1958 Alliance of the IMA founded
  • 1962 Contemporary Art Society founded
  • 1967 22 local leaders form Penrod—now attracts 20,000 guests annually.

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. The donation also included the Newfield house, originally a house for the Lilly children, it is now a Scholar’s Residence on campus.

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.

1967 - First Penrod

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 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.

  • 1970 Design Arts Society formed; LOVE arrives at the IMA
  • 1971 First celebration of Christmas at the Museum
  • 1972 Horticultural Society as special interest group for gardens and offers members opportunities to share gardening experience and expertise
  • 1972 Madeleine F. Elder and newly formed Horticultural Society rescue the Greenhouse from demolition. 96 acres of White River floodplain were given to the Museum by the firm Huber, Hunt and Nichols, which had operated the quarry there.

1972 - Clowes Pavilion opened as 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 - Following the dedication of the new galleries, membership triples to 12,000. During a decade of rampant inflation, the IMA began to build an operating endowment.

  • 1975 Asian Art Society Founded
  • 1976 Summer Nights outdoor film series launched

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.

  • 1983 Second Century Society founded and helps transform the financial picture of the organization.   

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

  • 1987-1989 the first full-master plan was created for The Garden.

1990 - The 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.

  • 1992 horticulture staff and volunteers launch the Garden Guides program.
  • 1993 Formal gardens restored through a gift from the friends and colleagues of Richard D. Wood to honor him upon his retirement from Eli Lilly and Company.
  • 1993 Garden for Everyone opens: lead gift In 1988, Irving Moxley Springer; design by Horticultural Society’s Claire Bennett.

1997 - Through a combination of gift and purchase, the Museum 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 new campus master plan including plan to create an Art & Nature park on 100 acres of property west of the main campus.

  • 1999 Ravine Garden restored to the original Percival Gallagher design; lead gift from garden-lovers Dr. George F. and Peggy Rapp, in whose honor the garden was named.
  • 1999 the Indiana Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects presented the Indianapolis Museum of Art with the Centennial Medallion for re-creating one of the state’s most outstanding works of landscape architecture.

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. Ground was also broken for a $74 million Museum expansion project designed to improve guest 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, landscape architect Edward Blake of The Landscape Studio, Hattiesburg, Miss., and architect Marlon Blackwell of Marlon Blackwell Architect, Fayetteville, Ark., are selected to design and oversee the creation of the 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 nine 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.

  • 2008 Nonie’s Garden opens as the focal point for the new main entrance: plaque marking the tribute to art and nature lover Nonie (Eleanor) Krauss reads: "Here marks the passage between art and nature, nature and art, for in reality, they are one."
  • 2009 Orchard restored by Gene and Rosemary Tanner.
  • 2009 formation of IMA Lab ensures Newfields—and the industry--keep up with the pace.

2009 - The Miller family donates Miller House and Garden, located in Columbus, Ind., to the IMA. Doors to this modern engineering marvel officially opened to the public in May 2011.

  • 2010 Fashion Arts Society Founded

2010 - ANP opens

  • 2011 Four Seasons Garden restored through the generosity of Richard and Helen Dickinson
  • 2011 New galleries for design
  • 2014 Roy Lichtenstein’s Five Brushstrokes acquired and installed
  • 2015 first US preschool in a general art museum; partnership with St. Mary’s Child Center

2017 - The IMA announces it will unify the entire campus under one name—Newfields, A Place for Nature and the Arts. Newfields becomes the home for the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Fairbanks Park, The Garden, Lilly House, and the Elder Greenhouse. Newfields’ Miller House and Garden extends the Newfields brand into southern Indiana.

Photo by Above All Photography