The NC Museum of Art’s interesting journey goes all the way back to the 1920s, decades before it even existed. It’s taken more than a few giant steps from the original downtown location to today’s site at Blue Ridge Road in western Raleigh.
Regardless of where it sits in our capital city, we’re grateful, along with many other visitors, to have this special museum. It’s home to amazing permanent and rotating special exhibitions, fun events, and one of our favorite outdoor parks.
Above all, most of it can be enjoyed mostly free of charge, which is a big part of why it ranks among the best museums in North Carolina.
NC Museum of Art in Raleigh
Note: For quick info about the NC Museum of Art (including hours and location), please scroll to the bottom of this post.
Did you know that the NC Museum of Art is the first state-supported art museum? And while it officially opened in 1956 on Morgan Street in Downtown Raleigh. the museum’s origins can be traced back to 1924.
That’s when the North Carolina State Art Society formed. Their mission was to “generate interest in creating an art museum” in North Carolina and 30 years later, they achieved that objective.
Thanks to a growing collection, the museum didn’t take long to outgrow its original location. In 1967, the legislature appointed a State Art Building Commission to find a suitable site that could handle its growth.
Today’s Blue Ridge Road site was decided upon and led to some controversy, as many felt the museum belonged downtown near the Capitol and other public buildings. Nevertheless, the Commission decided upon Blue Ridge Road as the museum’s future home.
Today’s NC Museum of Art
In 1983, the NC Museum of Art’s East Building opened, with the West Building and Art Park following in the early 2000s. Expansions and improvements to the site continue to keep it ahead of the sustainability and aesthetics curve.
A visit to the museum is one of our favorite things to do during a weekend in Raleigh. Here are some more reasons that keep us ready for a return trip.
Why We Keep Coming Back
Mostly Free of Charge
Out of all the museums in Raleigh, I think this is the only one with absolutely free parking. Admission to the park and the museum’s permanent exhibits is also free and the only things you must pay to enter are the special exhibits and events.
All of these costless perks are why the NC Museum of Art is included in our guide covering free things to do in Raleigh.
The NC Museum of Art is committed to providing an accessible place to visit. The galleries we’ve experienced are spacious and the museum’s entrances offer automatic doors. Service animals and support persons are also welcome to accompany visitors who need additional assistance.
ADA-compliant parking is available to those who visit, too.
Special exhibits and events at the museum are not free. If you plan to attend many of them, membership is a great idea because it gets you into them without any additional charge.
As a member, you’ll be supporting the museum’s continued growth but there are even more benefits beyond free admission to special events.
For example, you’ll receive discounts at the on-site Iris Restaurant and museum store. And if you visit art museums throughout North America, reciprocity to hundreds of them is available for members starting at the “Patron” level.
Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park
The first thing we come for on nice days is the Ann and Jim Goodnight Park. You can enjoy this park by throwing a blanket down and relaxing on the grass around the three large rings named “Gyre,” a name derived by sculptor Thomas Sayre from a W.B. Yeats poem.
As you walk throughout the park, dozens of more art installations pop up. These works of art complement a campus that’s truly dedicated to maintaining and improving the environment that surrounds it.
The park also hosts a pond and sustainable irrigation system that works to clean stormwater before entering our streams and rivers.
NC Museum of Art Park Trails
We love wandering through the park’s three trails, starting with the paved Blue Loop. Its connecting Meadow Trail and Woodland Trail are mulched and stay within the park’s confines. They join up with Raleigh’s Capital Area Greenway, which runs around the park.
The greenway features in our guide to hiking in North Carolina, and it runs pretty far, connecting the NC Art Museum to Meredith College and NC State from the east and Umstead State Park and Schenck Forest to the west. That collection of paths is known as the Art to Heart Trail.
Inside the Museum
It’s amazing that we’re hundreds of words in and now, we’re at the actual interior of the museum.
As we’ve mentioned, the NC Museum of Art is made up of two buildings, East and West. If you plan to purchase tickets to a special event or exhibit, you can do so online or just past the West Building entrance.
The museum’s permanent exhibits are found in both buildings, though the West Building holds the majority of them. Its always-expanding collection includes works from the Italian Rennaissance and from ancient Greece and Rome.
You’ll also find 18th- to 20th-century American art, ritual objects of Judaic ceremonies and life, and a diverse array of international contemporary pieces.
Note: Admission to these exhibits is free, except during Art in Bloom for four days in March. We’ll share more about that shortly.
Unless you’re already a member, special exhibits do require tickets and are well worth it in our experience.
We’ve walked through exhibitions dedicated to the photography of Ansel Adams, installations by Yayoi Kusama, paintings by Mexican Modernists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and those Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers, too.
Each one is tastefully curated and we look forward to the museum’s next round of special exhibits.
Art in Bloom
Art in Bloom is the museum’s biggest event, a four-day fundraiser that takes place each March. As we mentioned, this is the only time visitors pay admission to enter the permanent collections, but its purpose is to support the museum.
And the events don’t stop with special exhibits and beautiful flowers. The Museum brings in acts and performers from all over for concerts, seminars, and even debates.
And throughout the year, movies ranging from those honoring North Carolinians and others produced far and wide come to the museum, too.
The events don’t stop here, as you’ll find when checking out the NC Museum of Art’s calendar.
Final Thoughts and Yours, Too!
We’ve covered a lot and I feel like there’s still more to share with you about this wonderful museum. Whenever you’re ready, come and find out for yourself why this place keeps us coming back for more.
If you want to enjoy it as we do, start with a walk through the Park before moving onto the Permanent Exhibits. Of course, that can wait until after any ticketed special exhibit you’ve come to explore.
And before or after you visit the NC Museum of Art, we’d love to know your thoughts on it.
What’s your favorite part and what do you want to do first when stopping by? Let us know in the comments section!
NC Museum of Art Quick Info
Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27607
- Galleries and Museum Store: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Closed Mondays and Some Holidays
Note: The East Building remains open until 9:00 pm on Fridays during special exhibitions (tickets required)
- The Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park: Open daily, including holidays, from dawn to dusk.
- Iris restaurant, West Building: Open Tuesday to Saturday from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm. For Sunday Brunch, Open from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm.
- Sip coffee bar, West Building: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm.
- Art in Bloom in March
- Rotating Exhibits
- Summer Concerts
- Summer Films
Note: This post about the NC Museum of Art is completely unsponsored. In fact, we weren’t even asked to write about this awesome place. We just really like it and will keep coming back!