The Arlington Art Association was founded by civic leaders in 1952 with the guidance of Howard and Arista Joyner. Arista was the first art teacher at Arlington High School, and went on to develop the art department at Tarrant County Junior College, now Tarrant County College. The Joyners worked closely with other civic leaders to promote visual arts in Arlington. The team that included longtime mayor Tom Vandergriff and AISD superintendent James Martin worked to ensure long lasting arts programming in the community. Sixty years later, the relationships created between the Arlington Arts Association, the City of Arlington, the University of Texas at Arlington and the Arlington Independent School District have served to benefit and support the original vision. In 1986, the Arlington Art Association incorporated itself as the Arlington Museum of Art (AMA) and purchased the downtown JCPenney building on Main Street so they could establish a permanent home for the organization.
In 1991, the AMA revised its focus to highlight contemporary art in order to fill a void within the larger Metroplex museum community. The first Executive Director was hired and the facility was providing local artists a venue to showcase their work. Support for the museum began to decline significantly and by 2007 the Board concluded diminished interest was due, in large part, to the sole focus being on local contemporary art. A reliable and consistent revenue stream had also not been established and there were no means to sustain the organization.
The Board redefined the museum's business plans to continue with proven, successful programs, exhibitions and events, while broadening the scope beyond Texas contemporary art in an effort to appeal to a broader cross section of visitors, as well as garner greater local support. Chris Hightower was appointed as Executive Director and his first order of business was to develop a new mission which was to create a space to enhance Arlington's place in the North Texas cultural community with local patrons as well as tourists. The formal mission statement: The Arlington Museum of Art is dedicated to champion creativity and to provide access to art for the cultural enrichment and economic development of our community.
Currently, the AMA presents exhibits that generate interest and bring in visitors from all over the world. In addition to featuring loaned collections and curating shows in-house, long time programs including Children’s Summer Art Camp, exhibit specific lecture series, training classes, workshops, and other programming and events, have moved the AMA into a position of leadership among the Arlington arts organizations. The Museum provides access to exceptional art and shows that are informative and educational to our community and visitors, alike.