Inspired by the extraordinary art gathered at the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago, community leaders from Cedar Rapids formed an art club in 1895. Ten years later, when they were offered a specially designed gallery in the new Carnegie Library, the club incorporated as the Cedar Rapids Art Association. The first painting was acquired for the collection in 1906. Local artists were often important members, helping arrange exhibitions, lectures, and special events. Among the most active members in the early 1920s were artists Grant Wood and his close friend Marvin Cone. Receiving Federal support from 1930 to 1935, the Association also ran the highly regarded Little Gallery, directed by Ed Rowan, who later helped run the Public Works of Art Project.
In the early 1960s, the Art Association acquired and renovated a building for itself in a nearby downtown location—the Torch Press Building—providing 16,000 square feet of space on four floors. The Association renamed itself the Cedar Rapids Art Center and hired its first professional director since Rowan’s Depression-era tenure. In 1981, the Art Center earned accreditation by the American Association of Museums.
The Cedar Rapids Public Library moved to a new building in the mid 1980s, vacating the Carnegie building where the Art Association was first established. The City of Cedar Rapids offered the original Carnegie building and some adjacent land to the Art Museum. A successful campaign raised $10 million for the renovation of the Carnegie building and the construction of a 42,000 square foot addition designed by Charles W. Moore (1925-1993) and Centerbrook Architects. The new Cedar Rapids Museum of Art was formally opened with John Carter Brown (then Director of the National Gallery of Art) cutting the ribbon in December 1989. The CRMA remains an AAM accredited museum to this day.
In 2002, the Museum was given the building that houses the original studio of Grant Wood. Located just three blocks from the Museum, the loft studio, known by its fictitious address of 5 Turner Alley, was designed and constructed by Wood, who lived and worked there between 1924 and 1935. It was here that he painted American Gothic (1930)—now part of the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago—and many of his most famous paintings. The Grant Wood Studio is open to the public for guided tours from 12:00 PM-4:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays from April through December.