Organized visual art activity in Greenville did not begin in earnest until 1935 when three area artists and collectors met to form the Greenville Fine Arts League. The art association acquired its first permanent home with the purchase of the Gassaway Mansion in 1958. Five years later the South Carolina General Assembly established the Greenville County Museum Commission as the governing body of the Greenville County Museum of Art. By virtue of a tax millage, GCMA operations are supported by Greenville County taxpayers, while program support and art purchases are funded by private sources. The GCMA is the only museum in the Upstate to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

Recognizing the need for a modern and secure building to properly store, exhibit, and safeguard artwork, the GCMA formed a public-private partnership that raised funds for a new facility, which opened in March 1974. Sited on downtown’s Heritage Green, this facility provides almost 70,000 square feet of exhibition, education, and storage space. In 1985, the Museum refined its collections policy to focus on creating a comprehensive survey of American art using southern related examples. In 1995 the GCMA published a book, The Southern Collection, which includes 126 essays about 146 different works in the collection. In addition to this core strength, the GCMA owns the world’s largest public collection of watercolors by Andrew Wyeth and a significant collection of contemporary art, including an impressive collection of works by South Carolina artist Jasper Johns. The American Alliance of Museums awarded accreditation to the Museum first in 1973 and subsequently renewed accreditation in 1986, 1998, and 2009.