Mission & History
The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College is a teaching museum that enhances lives through inspirational and engaging art experiences for all.
The Polk Museum of Art and Florida Southern College will collaboratively create and sustain one of the nation’s leading academic fine art museums.
The Junior Welfare League of Lakeland founded the all-volunteer not-for-profit Imperial Youth Museum in 1966. The first professional director was employed in 1968, and by 1969 the institution was renamed to the Polk Public Museum, which better reflected its emphasis on art, history, and science.
In 1970, the Board of Trustees purchased a vacant Publix supermarket building to double the Museum's exhibition and classroom facilities. Subsequently, the Museum staff began working with the School Board of Polk County to establish and sustain a curriculum-based art education program in alignment with Polk County Schools. The institution received its national accreditation as an art museum from the American Association of Museums in 1983. Thus, the name “Polk Museum of Art” was adopted and planning for the first new building began. The current facility designed by architect Ernie Straughn was formally dedicated in September 1988 and opened debt-free.
In 2016, the Polk Museum of Art celebrated its 50th anniversary. It is still the largest and only nationally accredited visual arts organization in Polk County, and has been the only Smithsonian Affiliate between Orlando and Tampa since 2010. On June 1, 2017, the Museum affiliated with Florida Southern College to offer area students, faculty and the community-at-large more opportunities to experience Masterwork exhibitions, participate in academic programs of excellence as well as onsite internships, and conduct meaningful art history research.
The Museum continues to advance its enduring mission and increase its services annually to the broadest range of citizens throughout Polk County and beyond. No other art museum in our region provides the same breadth and depth of fine art experiences in such a large geographic area as the Polk Museum of Art.
Our permanent collection has grown to more than 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.
We now house and display year-round themed exhibitions of Florida Southern College's museum collection of American figurative art, made possible by FSC Alumnus J. William Meek, III.
We tour 5,000 fourth grade students and host 9 K-12 Student Art exhibitions annually.
The Polk Museum of Art's MIDFLORIDA Mayfaire by-the-Lake was named the 20th best art festival in the nation by the prestigious Sunshine Artist Magazine.
Approximately 140,000 visitors come to the Museum annually to learn through works of art from across time and place.
The Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 Study was conducted by Americans for the Arts in collaboration and partnership with the Polk Arts Alliance and the Cultural Arts Council of Polk County in 2016 to report on the economic impact of arts organizations in Polk County. The results of that reporting can be found here at the Polk Arts Alliance website.