The Junior Welfare League founded the all-volunteer Imperial Youth Museum in 1966. In 1968, the first professional director was employed, and in 1969 the Museum was renamed Polk Public Museum to reflect an emphasis on art, history and science.
In 1970, the Board of Trustees purchased a vacant Publix supermarket building, doubling exhibition and classroom space. In addition, and working closely with the Polk County School Board, the Museum established a strong art education program. In 1983, the Museum received national accreditation as an art museum from the American Association of Museums. Thus, the name “Polk Museum of Art” was adopted and planning for the first building campaign began. The current facility was designed by architect Ernie Straughn. It was formally dedicated in September 1988 and opened debt-free.
In 2016, the Polk Museum of Art celebrates its 50th anniversary. It is the largest and the only nationally accredited visual arts organization in Polk County and has been a Smithsonian Affiliate Museum since 2010. The Museum serves a broad range of citizens in their communities throughout and beyond Polk County. No other art museum in our region provides the same breadth and depth of direct services to a broader geographic area.
We are very poor and never had a chance to see other places, but at least we get to with these artworks. Thank you, they're the best pieces we've ever seen. (Polk Museum of Art Visitor Comment Book, 2015)
- Our permanent collection has grown to over 2,500 works of art, including works by Rembrandt van Rijn, Andy Warhol, Faith Ringgold, Pablo Picasso, Miriam Shapiro, James Rosenquist, Barbara Kruger, Marc Chagall, Damien Hirst, Hung Liu and others.
- The Florida Outdoor Sculpture Competition & Invitational brings works by sculptors from around the country to Lakeland, Winter Haven, Bartow, Sebring and Bonita Springs.
- The Museum's economic impact in Lakeland alone has been calculated at more than 12.5 million dollars.
- We serve roughly 35,000 students per year both at the Museum and in locations throughout Polk County. This includes every fifth grade student in Polk County Schools.
- The Polk Museum of Art's MIDFLORIDA Mayfaire by-the-Lake has been named the 55th best art festival in the nation by the prestigious Sunshine Artist Magazine.
- Approximately 130,000 visitors come to the Museum annually to learn through works of art from across time and place. Our partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and other museums makes it possible for citizens in our region to experience the world.