Mission and 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.


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 in Columbia, South Carolina. An art, natural history, and science museum, including a planetarium, the CMA became Columbia's premier cultural institution beginning with its growth during the 50s and 60s. The museum's art collection grew significantly during these years with large additions of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art from the Kress Foundation of New York. These gifts formed the nucleus of an important European collection. During the 70s and 80s, the museum pared down its wider role as a general museum with the deaccession of its natural history collection and experienced the impressive growth of internationally significant art acquisitions in European, American, Asian, and modern and contemporary fine and decorative art. 

At the request of the City of Columbia and Richland County, the CMA developed a plan to move downtown and to serve as the cultural anchor in the revitalization of the city’s Main Street corridor.  The new museum facility at 1515 Main Street, an adaptive re-use project designed and engineered by Stevens and Wilkinson, opened on July 18, 1998. This new building allowed the CMA to showcase its substantial art collection and to provide more space for dynamic programming. The museum currently has over 20,000 square feet of gallery space, which allows us to bring a wide range of exhibitions to South Carolina, as well as to provide the necessary space for the proper presentation of our collection, which numbers over 7,000 objects. The current building has well-designed workspaces, storage for collections, art studios, a 154-seat auditorium, a museum shop, and reception and event 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 CMA has exhibition galleries worthy of any of this country's great museums.