The Terra Museum of American Art opened in 1980 with approximately fifty paintings. Located outside of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois, the museum displayed the Terra Foundation’s nascent collection and held special exhibitions of American art. Plans to bring historical American art to broad audiences were ambitious and the collection soon grew to encompass hundreds of paintings and works on paper. In 1987, the Terra Museum of American Art moved from Evanston to downtown Chicago, and in 1992, the Terra Foundation expanded its reach to Europe, opening the Musée d’Art Américain Giverny in France, which showcased the collection’s American impressionist works and also exhibited a range of American artists and topics with a transatlantic focus.
By the mid-1990s, the Chicago-based Terra Foundation had conducted a strategic examination to see how it could best provide ever-widening audiences with opportunities to experience American art. The foundation decided to use its resources to support exhibitions and programs beyond those at the museums it operated. It determined to close the Terra Museum of American Art in 2004 and transition the Musée d´Art Américain Giverny in 2009, while maintaining its commitment to providing those communities with American art.
In Chicago, the Terra Foundation formed a partnership with the Art Institute of Chicago: a selection of Terra Foundation paintings remain on long-term loan to the Art Institute and installed in their galleries of American art. The Art Institute also houses the foundation’s works on paper, which may be viewed by appointment through the Department of Prints and Drawings. In Giverny, the Terra Foundation formed a partnership with French government and cultural organizations, including the Department of the Eure, the Musée d’Orsay, the Région Haute-Normandie, the Fondation Claude Monet, and the Department of Seine-Maritime, to create the Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny, which focuses on impressionism, its history, reach, and impact.
The Terra Foundation’s collection now comprises more than 700 objects, and it continues to grow through acquisitions and gifts. The foundation works to ensure its collection is accessible: it lends artworks to exhibitions around the globe (at any given time close to twenty percent of the collection is on view); creates focused shows featuring its collection for public exhibition; and maintains a comprehensive database of the collection that is available on this website.
In 2005, the Terra Foundation officially inaugurated its expanded grant program, making support for American art exhibitions, scholarship, and education programs available worldwide. Over recent years, the foundation has provided approximately $35 million for more than 350 exhibitions and scholarly programs in over thirty countries, including France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Peru, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, China, Russia, and Japan.
To complement its international endeavors, in 2009 the Terra Foundation opened a fully-staffed resource center in Paris dedicated to serving scholars, curators, and the general public. At its Paris center, the foundation offers monthly programs on current topics in American art and visual culture. In addition, the Paris center houses the only research library in Europe devoted exclusively to American art and transatlantic artistic exchange. The library’s collection comprises approximately 9,000 titles covering American art history from the eighteenth century to 1980, and is available for on-site study by appointment.
Today, the Terra Foundation supports worldwide study and presentation of historical art of the United States through its grants, initiatives, partnerships, art collection, and other resources. The foundation has made it a priority to create an international dialogue that is lively and relevant: it encourages new perspectives that interpret American art in dynamic ways and makes opportunities for engagement that resonate with individuals around the globe. From its offices in Chicago and Paris, Terra Foundation staff continues to build on the founding mission, working to bring American art to the world and the world to American art.