• Mission
  • History


The Columbia Museum of Art celebrates outstanding artistic creativity through its collection, exhibitions and programs, interacting in ways that engage the mind and enrich the spirit.

South Carolina's premier international art museum houses a world class collection of European and American fine and decorative art that spans centuries. In recent years, the Museum's collection of Asian art and Antiquities has grown through generous gifts to the collection. Founded in 1950, the museum opened its new building on Main Street in 1998 by transforming an urban department store into a sleek and airy, light-filled space with 25 galleries. The collections include masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, works by significant furniture and silver makers, as well as modern and contemporary art from the present time. Of particular interest are Sandro Botticelli's Nativity, Claude Monet's The Seine at Giverny and art glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Museum also offers changing exhibitions from renowned museums and educational programs that include group and public tours, lectures, films and concert series.

Columbia Museum of Art: Engaging the Community and Enriching the StateDownload a packet containing information about our mission, new strategies and our impact in the community and state.


The Columbia Museum of Art opened to the public on March 23, 1950 at its original site on Bull and Senate Streets in the historic Taylor House built in 1908 in Columbia, South Carolina. An art, natural history and science museum, including a planetarium, the Museum was Columbia's premier cultural institution throughout the '50s and '60s. The art museum's collection was enhanced during these years by large additions of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque art from the Kress Foundation of New York that formed the nucleus of an important European collection. Modest wings were added to the west and east facades of the building in the '60s to accommodate the growing collection as well as the planetarium. During the '70s and '80s, the Museum pared down its wider role as a general museum with the deaccession of its natural history collection. The art school was closed leaving only the planetarium and astronomy programs.

Faced with expensive care needed for the museum's building and the need for growth, the Museum pursued a host of initiatives, both at its past locale and at a variety of sites - all of which proved unfeasible. It was widely recognized that significant public money was a key to the institution's future. Early in 1993, the Justice Department rejected a proposed site downtown being offered by the City of Columbia for its new Training Academy. As a result the City to revisited the idea of moving the Museum to Main Street to go on the site of the former Macy's Department Store.

The downtown site proposal was attractive to local municipal bodies such as Richland County Council and the Columbia City Council because it simultaneously addressed two public problems: the need for expanded public museum facilities and the need to revitalize downtown as the major retail establishments were leaving. As a new anchor for Main Street, the museum project redefined public use for the Main Street section of the downtown area. The Columbia business community supported the proposal for its commercial opportunities, possible increase in property values, and potential to attract new visitors downtown.

The strong rationale for the museum relocation led to an ambitious capital campaign that secured funds from Richland County Council, Columbia City Council, Kresge Foundation and the private sector of the community, reaching the $16 million goal.

The new museum facility, an adaptive re-use project designed and engineered by Stevens and Wilkinson, opened on July 18, 1998 and allows the Museum to showcase its substantial art collection. The Museum currently has over 20,000 square feet of gallery space that permits it to bring a wider range of traveling exhibitions to South Carolina, as well as to provide the necessary space for the proper presentation of its collection, which numbers over 7,000 objects. South Carolina now has access to larger traveling art exhibitions - not previously possible because of limited space in the previous facility. The current building has well-designed workspaces, storage for collections, art studios, 150-seat public auditorium, art library, Museum shop and public reception spaces.

Designed by George Sexton Associates of Washington, D.C., the exhibition galleries occupy nearly three times more square feet than in the previous facility. One of this country's preeminent museum and exhibition design firms, George Sexton Associates has been involved in such important projects as the American Wing at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts in Norwich, England, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Denver Art Museum and the Cincinnati Art Museum. Lighting, climate-control, security and exhibition graphics are state-of-the-art in these spaces. The Columbia Museum of Art has exhibition galleries worthy of any of this country's great museums. Temporary exhibitions are presented in a flexible space that contains a minimum of 4,000-sq. ft. with the capability of expanding to nearly 7,000 sq. ft. When a smaller space is required, the balance is installed with contemporary art from the Museum's collection. Located on the first floor, the elegant but functional galleries have 13' ceilings and hardwood floors.

On the second floor, the galleries for the Museum's collections occupy nearly 12,000-sq. ft. and are designed to be compatible with the different types of art that visitors encounter there. Renaissance and Baroque galleries housing the Samuel H. Kress Collection are grand spaces painted in warm tones with stained hardwood accents. Galleries for the presentation of 18th and 19th century art are carpeted and detailed with accents appropriate to those periods. A grand, central space measuring 56' by 28', flanked by two octagonal galleries, form the heart of this important collection. All told, 14 galleries provide a worthy home for the Museum's outstanding collection of paintings and decorative arts. Within the Museum's galleries, visitors encounter three focus galleries -- small, intimate spaces where exhibitions of prints, drawings, photographs and small-scale decorative arts are installed. This enables the Museum to provide vitality to the collection galleries, thus ensuring that repeat visitors will always come away with new insights into the Museum's artistic holdings. Contemporary art is exhibited adjacent to the temporary exhibition galleries, and there is an additional focus gallery near the entrance to this space for the presentation of new works-on-paper.

The Museum offers a "window to the world" to its visitors not only through the display of its collection, but with public programs. From Art School classes for teens and adults, to programs specially designed for preschool children, people of all ages can find classes and workshops that inspire and enrich. For those visitors interested in lifelong learning, they can attend lectures, gallery talks and films. Music is also a part of the Museum's offerings, and world-class musicians as well as local musicians participant in music series. School programs, including home school programs are some of the best in the area. Children begin their museum experience in the magical Secret Garden Orientation Gallery that features trompe l'oeil murals created by the internationally known artist, Christian Thee. School tours are curriculum-based and include an exploration of the galleries and a creative hands-on activity in the studios.

In 2006 the Museum released a study conducted by Miley Gallo & Associates, LLC that shows the economic impact of the Museum within the community -- more than $9,700,000 due to direct, indirect and induced impacts, giving the City of Columbia and Richland County Council a more than ten-fold return on their investment. In addition to the money generated, the Museum supports almost 160 jobs in the Columbia area and generates local hospitality and tourism tax revenues of at least $80,000 per year. More than 6,250 people visit the Museum each month. These visitors spend almost $1.7 million on lodging and $1.6 million on food and beverages.