About the Museum

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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 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, a peer-reviewed periodical on the arts in America, organizes scholarly symposia, and sponsors several publication prizes. The museum’s specialized art research databases of a half million records and its extensive archival collections further research efforts 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 blog, webcasts, email newsletters, videos, 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. From 2000 to 2005, while the museum’s main building was closed for renovations, staff organized 14 exhibitions of more than 1,000 major artworks from the permanent collection that traveled to 105 venues across the United States. More than 2.5 million visitors saw these exhibitions. Since 2006, the museum has toured dozens of additional exhibitions to cities across the nation, and we continue to have major exhibitions touring the United States.

Recently Viewed

2008
33% glass-filled polyamide
2011
Mi-Teintes watercolor paper
2007
glass, cocobolo, steel, brass, and leather
2015
knotted and braided fiber with programmable lighting and wind movement above printed textile flooring