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Visiting the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh (+ 10 Things We Love About It!)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on April 12, 2024.

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The NC Museum of Art’s interesting journey goes back to the 1920s, decades before it existed. It’s taken more than a few giant steps from its 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 is free of charge, which is a big part of why it ranks among our favorite things to do in Raleigh, especially with kids! That’s also why we created this NC Travel Guide to feature the NC Museum of Art in more detail.

Here’s how we’ve organized the guide:

  • Where is the NC Museum of Art?
  • When is it Open?
  • History of the NC Museum of Art
  • Things We Love About the Museum Today!

Read More: 10 of the Best Museums in Raleigh (Downtown and Beyond)

Where is the NC Museum of Art?

Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27607

The NC Museum of Art is in Raleigh, about 20 minutes from downtown Raleigh.

You can visually plan your trip to the museum with the following maps:

When is the NC Museum of Art Open?

The NC Museum of Art is a vast complex of buildings and a park, all of which operate at different times. Here is a quick breakdown:

  • Galleries and Museum Store: Open Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, 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.
  • NCMA Cafe: Open Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
  • East Cafe: Open Friday to Sunday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

History of the NC Museum of Art

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.

Read More: 15+ Important Tips to Enjoy the NC State Fair

Visiting Today

Museum of Arts Raleigh Special Exhibit Image

The NC Museum of Art’s East Building opened in 1983, followed by the West Building and Art Park 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.

Read More: The Asheville Art Museum (How to Visit + 7 Great Things to Do)

Things We Love About the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh, NC

Now that you know the where and when of the NC Museum of Art, here are all the things we love about it!

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.

Read More: Central North Carolina (and 100+ Amazing Places to Visit)

Accessible

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.

Membership Perks

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.

Read More: 13 of the Best Airbnbs in Raleigh (Downtown, Residential Areas, and Nearby Towns)

Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park

Art Museum in Raleigh NC Park Image

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

Museums in Raleigh NC Art Park Image

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 is featured 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.

Read More: 50+ Easy Day Trips from Fayetteville (Great Getaways!)

Inside the Museum

NC Museum of Art West Building Entrance Image
The West Building entrance.

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.

Permanent Exhibits

Art Museum Raleigh Permanent Exhibits Image

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. We’ll share more about that shortly.

Special Exhibits

Raleigh Art Museum Special Exhibit 2019-2020 Image
Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism, 2019-2020.

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.

NC Museum of Art Special Exhibit You Are Here 2018 Image
Special Exhibit “You Are Here,” 2018.

Each one is tastefully curated and we look forward to the museum’s next round of special exhibits.

Art in Bloom

Things to do in March in NC 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.

It’s a beautiful collection of flowers that get better each year. Those gorgeous displays truly signal spring‘s arrival to Central North Carolina.

More Events

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 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.

Ready to Visit the NC Museum of Art?

Art Museum Raleigh Ann and Jim Goodnight Park Image

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!

More Things to Do in Raleigh

We’ve featured the NC Museum of Art and more things to do in Raleigh in our collection of NC Travel Guides. Here are a few of them.

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