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Our History

January 2, 2017
March 2020

Albany Museum of Art Origins

The Albany Museum of Art has its origins in the early 1960s when Albany, Georgia residents formed the Southwest Georgia Art Association. That organization obtained its not-for-profit status in March 1964. Relying on volunteer staff and the donation of space in a defunct hosiery mill, the group established a program of exhibitions, lectures, and art instruction.

Slappey Boulevard Gallery

Through the generosity of W. Banks Haley, Jr., the association constructed a gallery in a small city park on Slappey Boulevard, one of the city’s primary thoroughfares at the time. Its first paid staff members were hired in 1975. Exhibitions were drawn from collections and/or faculty of area universities; SITES (Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service), and corporate collections, including those of IBM, Coca-Cola, and Gulf States Paper Company. The Gallery hosted the Southeastern Annual exhibitions and Georgia Designer Craftsmen shows. Art instruction for children and adults was provided by instructors with professional standing. In addition, the programs included film and lecture series, chamber music, and dinner theatre.

Capital Campaign for a New Building

In 1980, at the beginning of a capital campaign for a new building, the association’s name was officially changed to the Albany Museum of Art. In 1983, the citizens of Albany and Southwest Georgia opened a new museum facility at 311 Meadowlark Drive with an exhibition of American Impressionism from the Phillips Collection, and a permanent installation of the AMA’s own collection of traditional African art. The growing collection of the AMA now includes 19th and 20th century American and European paintings, drawings, sculptures, watercolors, prints and photographs, and what has become one of the largest collections of traditional African art in the Southeast outside of a university setting. With six galleries, the Albany Museum of Art offered more than twenty art exhibitions annually, including its permanent collection exhibits.

Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums

The Museum was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in the early 1990s, an accreditation it has since maintained. Only 3 percent of institutions nationwide achieve and maintain this distinction.

Harry and Jane Willson Auditorium

In 1998, the AMA added the Harry and Jane Willson Auditorium, along with a catering kitchen. That space, which can accommodate seating for one-hundred people, has been used for artist lectures, as well as community and social events. Including in those are the popular biannual Saturday Family Days and the annual Courageous Conversations about Race, which tackles the topics of race and racism in a safe space. The Museum facility also includes a classroom for studio arts, enabling it to offer area residents special art instruction events. The AMA also uses that space to host week-long art camps, during the school breaks in summer, winter and spring. In 2014, the children’s area was expanded with an addition labeled AMAzing Space, which offers children multiple ways to engage in the arts. That space was completely renovated in early 2021, and now includes a library with books for children and adults.

Hurricane-force Winds

On January 2, 2017, the AMA was hit by hurricane-force straight-line winds that devastated much of Albany and Southwest Georgia. The 90 mph-plus winds tore away large sections of the roof from the building, allowing rain into offices, galleries, and vaults on the second floor. The AMA worked tirelessly during those critical first days to ensure the collection was stabilized and moved to suitable storage, or sent to professionals for conservation. None of the works in the museum collection or on loan were destroyed as a result of the storms. All works were secure when a second major storm, including tornadoes, hit the area three weeks later.

Nine Month Closure

The first 2017 storm forced the Museum to close for nearly nine months while repairs were made. In August 2017, it reopened its three downstairs galleries, where it has continually hosted a series of temporary exhibitions. Also reopened were the auditorium, classroom and AMAzing Space, with art camps and other activities resuming in those spaces. Offices were relocated to spaces downstairs as well.

Considering a Move to Downtown

It was in 2017 that Museum officials and trustees began exploring the idea of moving the Museum to a new home in Downtown Albany, which has been undergoing a renaissance with renewed interest from businesses. The Museum became a visible part of downtown in Fall 2018 when it launched AMA ChalkFest, a downtown street festival that features professional chalk artists, craft beer and live music. In 2019, it attracted more than 4,000 people. The move of the Museum to downtown became possible in June 2019, when the Robert N. Brooks, Sr. family generously agreed to donate property at 128 and 146 W. Broad Ave. that includes a former department store with 53,000 square feet of space, more than double size of the current Museum. The location presents numerous opportunities for the institution, including proximity to other cultural attractions, the reimagining and updating of its visitor experience, and attracting a growing younger population centered in the downtown area. A capital campaign to raise the funding needed for the estimated $12 million Museum facility is scheduled to begin in late 2021 following the adoption of a new strategic plan that is nearing completion after months of work. Work began on the new five-year strategic plan in the second half of 2020, with adoption of the plan to come in Spring 2021.

COVID-19 Pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States in early 2020, the Albany Museum of Art was affected, as was every U.S. institution. The Museum closed to the public on March 18, and shifted its focus to bringing the Museum into people’s home via virtual experiences. Virtual explorations of the current exhibitions were created and placed on social media and the AMA website. A thrice-weekly blog Kids Staying Inspired was launched, and the AMA conducted online contests that attracted large audiences locally, but also from other parts of the United States as well as other countries. The AMA’s popular art camps were reimagined as Art Camp in a Box, where a child could get a box of the needed camp supplies and then engage with an online instructor from home. During the shutdown, which ended in early July, Museum officials took the opportunity to refresh the look and feel of AMAzing Space, renovate the upstairs offices, and to restore and improve environmental controls for its vaults. The portion of the AMA permanent collection that had been generously stored at the High Museum in Atlanta returned in October 2020, and in November 2020 Atlanta artist Tom Ferguson gifted 250 of his works to the AMA permanent collection. The renovated upstairs McCormack Gallery reopened in November 2020 and downstairs Hodges Gallery reopened in January 2021 with a exhibition of selected works by Ferguson. The AMA now has five galleries hosting exhibitions, including a permanent installation by artist Elinor Saragoussi in the West Gallery. Since reopening, the Museum has followed health protocols in maintaining a safe space for visitors, guests and staff.

Brownfield Grant

In 2020, the Museum applied for and was awarded a Brownfield Grant from the Environmental Protection Agency after underground contaminants were discovered during the Museum’s due diligence work prior to the donation of the building, which also required asbestos abatement. The project to clean up those contaminants, which benefits the health and wellbeing of everyone in Albany, began in January 2021 and is expected to be successfully completed by early Spring 2021. This was a necessary step because the launch of the capital campaign to fund the new Museum.