When the Everson Museum of Art opened its present quarters in 1968, it was dubbed "a work of art for works of art." As the first museum designed by internationally-acclaimed architect I. M. Pei, the Everson's design has been credited with launching Pei's world-famous career and putting the museum at the forefront of contemporary architecture. Today, the Museum has assumed a vital role in the reinvigoration of downtown Syracuse through artistic programs designed to maximize community involvement.
The Everson Museum of Art's roots extend back to the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, which was founded in 1897 by George Fisk Comfort, a well known art educator who also helped establish the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts' inaugural exhibition was held in 1900. Within twenty years of its founding, the Syracuse Museum made two character-setting decisions under the leadership of Fernando Carter, the second director of the Museum.
In 1911, the Everson declared that it would collect only American art, the first museum to do so. This decision led to a permanent collection comprised largely of American paintings, sculpture, drawings and graphics that date from colonial times to present day. The Everson also established one of the first video art collections in the United States and holds one of the largest video art collections in the world.
Over the years the Museum had several homes, such as the Onondaga Savings Bank and the Syracuse Public Library. The rapidly expanding museum outgrew each facility. In 1941, Helen Everson made a gift to the City of Syracuse to be used for the sole purpose of erecting a museum dedicated to art appreciation and education. Under the guidance of Director Max Sullivan, ground was broken for the present Everson Museum of Art in 1965.