“…a repository of inestimable value, like the art world’s Fort Knox.”
– contemporary art collector and friend of the Archives
Founded in Detroit in 1954 by Edgar P. Richardson, then Director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Lawrence A. Fleischman, a Detroit executive and active young collector, the initial goal of the Archives was to serve as microfilm repository of papers housed in other institutions. This mission expanded quickly to collecting and preserving original material and, in 1970, the Archives joined the Smithsonian Institution, sharing the Institution’s mandate—the increase and diffusion of knowledge.
The Archives today is the world’s pre-eminent and most widely used research center dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to primary sources that document the history of the visual arts in America.
Our vast holdings—more than 20 million letters, diaries and scrapbooks of artists, dealers, and collectors; manuscripts of critics and scholars; business and financial records of museums, galleries, schools, and associations; photographs of art world figures and events; sketches and sketchbooks; rare printed material; film, audio and video recordings; and the largest collection of oral histories anywhere on the subject of art—are a vital resource to anyone interested in American culture over the past 200 years.
Yet the Archives is still growing! Each year, our curators travel the country seeking the papers of today’s artists, dealers, and collectors, and once new collections are acquired, professional archivists preserve the materials and create easy-to-use guides.
Founded on the belief that the public needs free and open access to the most valuable research materials, our collections are available to the thousands of researchers who consult original papers at our research facilities or use our reference services remotely every year, and to millions who visit us online to access detailed images of fully digitized collections.
Our resources serve as reference for countless dissertations, exhibitions, catalogues, articles, and books on American art and artists, and preserve the untold stories that, without a central repository such as the Archives, might have otherwise been lost.
Through collecting, preserving, and providing access to our collections, the Archives inspires new ways of interpreting the visual arts in America and allows current and future generations to piece together the nation’s rich artistic and cultural heritage.