The bequest of Louise Caldwell Murdock and subsequent establishment of the Roland P. Murdock Collection forms the initial impetus for the museum. Mrs. Murdock’s will, written in 1915, specified that the income from her estate, following the death of her closest relatives, should be used for the purchase of art for the City of Wichita—a collection named in memory of her newspaper publisher husband. From 1939 to 1962, Mrs. Elizabeth Stubblefield Navas, Mrs. Murdock's friend and business associate, selected works of American art for the museum. Now 8,000 strong, the prized collection emphasizes American art and is nationally recognized for its distinction.
When the first museum building opened its doors in 1935, and it was an Art Deco gem designed by New York architect Clarence Stein. As the museum grew, so did community interest and support. In 1960, the Wichita Art Museum Members, Inc. was established. Through this non-profit membership organization, interested citizens could contribute funds and service toward the development of new programs. The City approved funds for the construction of additions to the original building to provide space for storage, expanded exhibition programs, educational programs, and membership activities. Thus, in 1963, two wings, a lobby, and a new façade were added to the original building and designed by Wichita architect Robert Schaefer.
In the 1970s, the City Commission voted to construct an expanded facility. Designed by the internationally renowned Edward Larrabee Barnes, the building features brick sheathing and bold massing on the Arkansas River
At the start of the new millennium, the City of Wichita joined forces with the community to complete another expansion project to bring the total square footage to 115,000. The new addition, finished in June 2003, provided more exhibition space, a new restaurant, gift shop, research library, and much needed art services area.
Today, with a dedicated board, staff, and corps of 100+ volunteers, a nationally distinguished collection, Edward Larrabee Barnes facility, and growing audience, the museum is a public/private partnership, owned by the City of Wichita and managed by Wichita Art Museum, Inc.