High Museum of Art

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As the largest art museum in the southeastern United States, the High Art Museum, known affectionately as only the High, offers visitors to Atlanta the chance to see a very special and extensive collection of classic and contemporary art. Located in the heart of the downtown arts district on property which used to belong to the High family, this popular attraction offers guests over 300,000 square feet of space and 11,00 permanent pieces along with an ever-changing set of travelling and special exhibitions.


Originally called the Atlanta Art Foundation, the collection that now makes up the High Museum of Art began to accumulate back in 1905. 21 years later, the High family, who were intimately involved with the Foundation, donated their stately property on Peachtree Street for the purpose of housing that artwork and thus the destination that is the High Museum began. In fact, a separate facility was built next to the home in 1955 to accommodate the growing collection and popularity of the institution.

Then, in 1962, disaster struck the Atlanta arts community when a plane carrying a group of art patrons travelling in France on a museum-sponsored trip crashed, killing all on board, 130 people in all. At the time, this was the largest single plane crash in history and led to a good deal of publicity and sympathy for the Atlanta arts community which, up to that point, was largely ignored in favor of larger markets such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

In tribute to those lost in the crash, the Louvre offered to lend the High Museum Whistler’s Mother for a temporary display that fall. And, later that year, publicity from the crash allowed the High to raise funds to build the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center on its property. To this memorial, the government of France donated an Auguste Rodin sculpture, The Shade.

From that point on, the special attention of the High allowed it to increase its fund raising and endowments steadily. Then, in 1983, thanks in part to a grant from Coca-Cola president Robert Woodruff, the museum was able to commission the construction of a new, 130,000 square foot building to hold its permanent collection. Designed by Pritzker Prize winner Richard Meier, the building was still only able to hold about 3% of the museum’s permanent collection.

What the new building did accomplish, however, was increasing attendance and a huge outgrowth for the museum through the 1980s and 1990s. The operating budget grew exponentially from $60,000 in 1963 to over $9 million by 1991. As a result, the museum was able to begin plans to expand even more, a project which commenced in 2002. The three new buildings from this project were designed by Renzo Piano, and more than doubled the exhibit space of the High. This has led to an increase of their collection by over 3,000 pieces since that time.

The permanent collection of the High mostly spans the 19th and 20th centuries, though the museum is active in its acquisition of modern art and also possesses a small (29 piece) collection of works from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It’s most important works, however, are found in its selection of African Art, and its special emphasis on artists of the American South who were self-taught. In fact, the High is the only museum in North America which has a curatorial department dedicated to folk art and self-taught artists.

Main Attraction

The museum is closed Mondays as well as on select holidays. Admissions rates are for adults (18+), seniors (65+), children (6-17), and students with current I.D. Admission includes all permanent collections and most temporary installations. However, some travelling exhibits may charge and additional fee for entrance. There are self-guided audio tours of select galleries available as well for an additional cost. The museum frequently features weekly specials including half price admission on Thursday evenings to coincide with Thirsty Thursdays as well as free and discounted admissions for Fulton County, Georgia residents and members of the military during specific dates and times.

In addition to its regular exhibits and travelling installations, the High offers a variety of special programs and happenings. This includes teen and family programs, lectures, film screenings, a Friday night Jazz series, and more. The museum can be rented for parties and corporate events as well.

As a cultural institution, the High is also dedicated to education in the fine arts. It offers filed trips, homeschool programs, and teacher educational opportunities for students of all ages. The campus of the museum also includes several dining options from a casual coffee cart to the upscale Table 1280 Restaurant. They also offer a museum shop which is accessible without admission to the museum itself.

Why It’s a Must-See

As the southeastern United States’ premier fine arts location, the High Art Museum has a lot to offer art lovers of all types. With an extensive collection and massive gallery space, exploration of these halls can take all day. The good news is that the folks at the High work hard to keep that day interesting with several dynamic installations, a fascinating permanent collection, and a fantastic slate of events and happenings all year round.