What is now the Polk Museum of Art had its origins in an effort by the Junior Welfare League of Lakeland to establish a children’s museum in the city. By early 1966 the Junior Welfare League had made a commitment to provide financial support to the proposed museum for five years and a Board of Trustees was appointed. After searching for a suitable location for several months, the new Board agreed to locate the museum in the former Christian Scientist Church Building on East Walnut Street in Lakeland. The grand opening for what was then known as the Youth Museum of Imperial Polk County occurred on December 11, 1967.
The museum hired its first professional director, Donald Herold, in 1968 and changed its name to the Polk Museum at Lakeland: Science, History, and Art. In 1970 the museum moved from its small quarters in the former Christian Scientist Church building to a former Publix Supermarket building on East Palmetto Street near the Lakeland Public Library. It also began a major fundraising drive to pay for the building and the necessary renovations.
Two years later, in 1972, the museum sponsored the first annual Mayfaire, an outdoor art show featuring the works of a small group of local artists. That small art festival held on the lawn of the Lakeland Public Library has grown into Mayfaire-by-the-Lake, one of the largest outdoor art festivals in Central Florida, attracting more than 160 artists and nearly 70,000 people to the shores of Lake Morton every Mother’s Day weekend. The museum also continued to expand its programs and collections throughout the 1970’s.
By late in the decade of the 1970’s the museum’s purpose began to evolve and focus increasingly on art to the exclusion of history and science. The Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the museum to reflect that change in focus, first to the Polk Public Museum in 1978 and then to the Polk Museum of Art, the name by which it is known today, in 1985. By the early 1980’s the Board had also determined that the museum had outgrown its existing quarters and began to buy land around the Palmetto Street location and commissioned plans for a new structure. After years of planning, fundraising, and construction, the new Polk Museum of Art opened on Palmetto Street in September 1988. The old Publix Supermarket, which had housed the museum for eighteen years, was demolished to create a parking for the museum and the nearby public library.
In the years since, the Museum has continued to increase its collections and offer more exhibitions and programs. The posters depicted in this collection provide a small sample of the Polk Museum of Art’s diverse programming.