About the Museum

A small child stands in front of Nam June Paik's Electronic Superhighway

The Museum’s Mission

Sharing the stories of our nation through American art and craft to inspire reflection, spark dialogue, and build connection.

The Museum’s Vision

SAAM is a place to picture yourself in American art. As the global leader and trusted source on American art and craft, we engage our community, the nation, and the world by exploring tradition and innovation while showcasing the bold and unexpected. We celebrate a wide range of artistic expressions, reminding us that we are all makers.

The Museum's Values

  • Curiosity and Joy
  • Accessibility and Inclusion
  • Respect and Engagement
  • Excellence and Leadership
  • Sustainability and Care

Look at the strategic plan to see more about the Smithsonian American Art Museum's mission, vision, and values.

Documenting America’s Visual Culture from the Colonial Period to Today

The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the nation’s first collection of American art, is an unparalleled record of the American experience.The collection captures the aspirations, character, and imagination of the American people throughout three centuries. The museum is the home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal key aspects of America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today.

The museum has been a leader in identifying and collecting significant aspects of American visual culture, including photography, modern folk and self-taught art, African American art, Latino art, and video games. The museum has the largest collection of New Deal art and exceptional collections of contemporary craft, American impressionist paintings and masterpieces from the Gilded Age. In recent years, the museum has focused on strengthening its contemporary art collection, and in particular media arts, through acquisitions, awards, curatorial appointments, endowments, and by commissioning new artworks.

Two Historic Buildings, One Incredible Collection

The museum’s main building, a National Historic Landmark located in the heart of Washington’s downtown cultural district, has been meticulously renovated with expanded permanent-collection galleries and innovative public spaces. The Luce Foundation Center for American Art, the first visible art storage and study center in Washington, allows visitors to browse thousands of artworks from the collection. It adjoins the Lunder Conservation Center, which is shared with the National Portrait Gallery, the first art conservation facility to allow the public permanent behind-the-scenes views of the preservation work of museums. The Renwick Gallery, a branch of the museum that is home to the museum’s collection of contemporary craft and decorative art, reopened in November 2015 after a two-year renovation.

Across the nation and beyond

Education Programs

The museum is a leader in providing electronic resources to schools and the public through its national education programs. We offer an array of interactive activities online, as well as Artful Connections, real-time educational videoconferences. The museum offers in-depth professional development programs for educators, including week-long national Summer Institutes for teachers, where they can learn digital tools and teaching techniques for integrating art across the curriculum

Research and Scholarship

The museum’s Research and Scholars Center is one of the nation’s leading centers for the study of American art. The museum offers residential fellowships for artists and scholars at the graduate level and above and internships for college seniors and graduate students. SAAM also produces American Art, the leading peer-reviewed journal of American art history and related visual culture, organizes scholarly symposia, and sponsors several publication prizes. The museum’s specialized art research databases of a half million records and its extensive research collections further scholarship in the field. In addition, the museum has published dozens of books and catalogues.

Digital Connections

The museum has been engaging audiences online since 1993 when we launched one of the earliest museum websites through America Online. AmericanArt.si.edu, was launched in 1995, and we debuted the first blog at the Smithsonian in 2005. Today, we use an array of platforms to help us better connect with you, including social media, our blogvideos, virtual reality, and gaming-focused events like the SAAM Arcade.

Traveling Exhibitions

In addition to a robust exhibition program in Washington, DC, the museum maintains a highly regarded traveling exhibition program, and has circulated hundreds of exhibitions since the program was established in 1951. 

Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns

The Museum adheres to the Smithsonian Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns Policy, adopted on April 29, 2022. The Museum recognizes the value of wide representation in its collection, the benefit of preserving and respectfully making available to the public a diverse range of objects and stories, and the role of museums as collaborative custodians of cultural legacies.

Statement on SAAM Collection Information 

The Smithsonian American Art Museum acknowledges harmful and discriminatory language may exist within our records because of outdated social attitudes and scholarship at the time those items were collected, cataloged, or studied.  Such language does not reflect SAAM’s values. We carefully consider the most appropriate course of action when we encounter or are alerted to such material. We strive to prioritize ever-evolving best practices within the museum field in ways that are welcoming to all art lovers.   ​
SAAM welcomes feedback. If you would like to request a review of an object record, please contact us at SAAMCurator@si.edu or submit a form under category "Collections Information" on the Contact Us page.