About the Ackland

Since 1958, The Ackland Art Museum has been one of North Carolina’s most important cultural resources. We serve broad local, state, and national constituencies as a unit of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Museum’s permanent collection consists of more than 20,000 works of art, featuring North Carolina’s premier collections of Asian art and works of art on
paper (drawings, prints, and photographs), as well as significant collections of European masterworks, twentieth-century and contemporary art, and North Carolina pottery.

The Ackland Art Museum is UNC-Chapel Hill’s local museum with a global outlook. Our location and programs bridge campus and community. We’re free, open, and accessible to all.

We empower you to get close to art – the familiar, the unexpected, the challenging – and connect with the complexity and beauty of the wider world. We provide experiences that spark insight into ourselves, each other, and the world.

Our mission is the art of understanding.

Our invitation to you is to “look close, think far.”

Look close think far


Important note: The Ackland is in the process of reckoning with its history and rethinking how we tell the story of William Hayes Ackland. We have made one essential change to the the following text. Please stay tuned for more changes to these pages.

The Ackland Art Museum was founded through the bequest of William Hayes Ackland (1855-1940) to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Ackland Trust provided the funds to construct the museum building, and that trust continues to provide for the purchase of works of art. Ackland, a native of Nashville, Tennessee, graduated from Nashville University and received a law degree from Vanderbilt University. In 1936, although not a collector himself, he took steps to establish a museum at a southern university. As the words of his tomb suggest, “he wanted the people of his native South to know and love the fine arts.” He was also concerned that the museum be connected with a “great university” with existing cultural interests.

The main source of the family wealth was the fortune built by Isaac Franklin — first husband of Ackland’s mother, Adelicia — who died in 1846. Franklin founded what became the largest slave trading company in the United States, which made him immensely wealthy, and which he sold a decade before his death. Income and capital from the family plantations, and particularly from the forced labor of the people enslaved there, sustained the family’s luxurious and privileged lifestyle after Frankin’s death and Adelicia’s remarriage. This money also provided the inheritance that was the foundation of Mr. Ackland’s personal wealth.

When Mr. Ackland died in 1940, he left his bequest to Duke University. Duke’s trustees, however, objected to stipulations that Mr. Ackland be buried in a museum named after him and that his money be managed by trustees in Washington, D.C. They refused the bequest and started nine years of litigation that resulted in the award of the Ackland Trust to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the other schools previously considered by Mr. Ackland. Further delays were caused by the unavailability of building materials. Designed in the Georgian style by Eggers and Higgins of New York, the red brick William Hayes Ackland Memorial Art Center was dedicated on September 20, 1958. It comprised exhibition galleries, an art library, classrooms, studios, and offices.

Beginning with a group of objects transferred to the Museum from the University, and with 5,000 prints acquired by UNC-Chapel Hill in 1951 from the estate of New York advertising executive Burton Emmett, a collection was built primarily of European and North American art spanning the centuries from antiquity to the present. Around 1980, the Museum’s acquisitions began to include significant Indian, Chinese, and Japanese objects, and curators devoted substantial attention to drawings and photographs. To help reach visitors with various interests, the Museum’s volunteer docents were reorganized and trained to work with the Ackland’s expanding audiences, including school groups and the town’s retired citizens.

With the creation of the Hanes Art Center in 1983, space formerly occupied by the Art Department was made available for Museum purposes. In 1985, funds were requested for the total renovation of the building. In the fall of 1987, the Ackland closed its doors to the public and renovation was begun. The completely renewed galleries were reopened in December 1990 and March 1992, making available the spaces and enlarged collection at the Ackland today.

Accreditation, Policies, & Plans

The Ackland Art Museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. As the museum field’s mark of distinction, accreditation offers high profile, peer-based validation of a museum’s operations and impact.

Code of Ethics

Strategic Plan

American Alliance of Museums logo


Art image credits:

Unidentified artist, Mughal, Perforated Screen, c. 1605–27, sandstone, 42 1/8 x 40 9/16 x 3 3/4 in. (107 x 103 x 9.5 cm). Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Special Acquisition Fund, 2019.16.3. Photo by Megan Kerns Photography.

Robert O. Skemp, American, 1910–1984, Portrait of William Hayes Ackland (detail), oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in. (121.9 x 91.4 cm). Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. William Hayes Ackland Estate Collection, 58.9.1.