Until June of 1994, when the San Antonio Museum Association was dissolved, the San Antonio Museum of Art was one of two museums – the Museum of Art and the Witte Museum of Science and History – operating under the auspices of the San Antonio Museum Association, which was chartered in 1925.
In the early 1970s, the growth of the Association’s fine art collections led the Trustees to consider securing new space for the art collection. Plans were initiated to purchase the historic Lone Star Brewery complex for conversion into the San Antonio Museum of Art. The buildings were acquired in the 1970s. Following a $7.2 million renovation, the Museum of Art was opened to the public in March of 1981. Funding for the renovation was secured through grants from the Economic Development Administration, the City of San Antonio and a number of private individuals and foundations. A National Endowment for the Arts challenge grant helped establish the operating endowment.
At its outset, the Museum of Art emphasized the art of the Americas including pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial and Latin American folk art. Included as well were eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century American and European paintings, photography, sculpture and decorative arts. In 1985, the Museum received the unparalleled collections of Latin American Folk Art formed by former Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller and Robert K. Winn, establishing it at the forefront of American institutions collecting in this area.
Major gifts from the late Gilbert M. Denman, Jr. and the acquisition of the Stark-Willson Collection established a comprehensive collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman art. The museum now has one of the largest collections of art of the ancient Mediterranean world in the southern United States. In the 1990s, Museum Trustees Walter F. and Lenora Brown began donating what has grown to over 500 Asian objects, mostly Chinese ceramics. This collection of Asian art now forms one of the finest Asian collections in the nation. These major gifts have been complemented through the years by hundreds of individually important gifts and purchases, to make it possible for the San Antonio Museum of Art to present to its audience significant artistic achievements of the world’s cultures from ancient times to the present, in accordance with the mission statement.
In 1991, the 7,000 square foot Cowden Gallery was opened for changing exhibitions and, in 1994, the 3,000 square foot Beretta Hops House was renovated providing three classrooms for enriching art education programs. The Luby Courtyard was opened at the same time providing an appropriate outdoor space for family days and other art celebrations. In 1998, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art, a 30,000 square foot wing, opened to display Latin American art from all periods. In May of 2005, the new Lenora and Walter F. Brown Asian Art Wing opened. It is a 15,000 square foot addition that makes SAMA the largest center for Asian art in the southern United States.
In May of 2009, the Museum Reach extension of San Antonio's famed Riverwalk was opened. To accommodate the Museum's new riverfront access, SAMA built the Glora Galt River Landing, a shaded pavilion, esplanade and terrace along the Museum's north side.
The San Antonio Museum of Art received accreditation from the American Association of Museums on November 6, 2000. The institution now has a staff of nearly fifty.
The mission of the San Antonio Museum of Art is to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret significant works of art representing a broad range of history and world cultures. In accordance with the highest professional standards, the Museum holds these collections for the benefit of the community and future generations. It is SAMA’s responsibility to educate and engage diverse audiences, provide transformational experiences, strengthen our shared understanding of humanity and encourage a sense of wonder and discovery.
The Museum conducts more than 500 guided tours annually and provides approximately 200 educational programs each year. Programs include lectures, concerts, films, children’s workshops, scholarly symposia, family art activities and special exhibitions.