The EasternWashington State Historical Society, which operates as the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, is the largest cultural organization in the Inland Northwest. It is an agency of the State of Washington and a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, accredited by the Alliance of American Museums and affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.
The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture was founded as the Spokane Historical Society in 1916. Early in its existence, the society began showing "a handful of relics of pioneer days" at Spokane City Hall and later Norfolk Hall. In 1917 it moved to a room at the Crescent Department Store and then the Wharton Block as the collection grew to almost 30,000 objects. The society became the Eastern Washington State Historical Society (EWSHS) in 1918 and in 1925 found a new home in the A.B. Campbell house, gifted to the museum by Helen Campbell Powell. In 1926, the EWSHS was recognized by the State of Washington and made a "trustee of the people" to collect materials relevant to the state, although the types of items collected followed the examples of museums in the northeast (natural curios and historic relics). The museum’s mission soon expanded to include art. Funding from the state began in 1937.
In 1960, the Cheney Cowles Memorial Museum opened on land adjacent to Campbell House and donated by Helen Campbell Powell and her husband in memory of their son who died in World War II. The Cowles family provided the funding for the building in memory of Major Cheney Cowles, and included a new research library and archives named for Joel E. Ferris. No longer needed for display of the museum's collections, formal restoration of Campbell House began to return it to the "Age of Elegance" and it remained open to the public.
As the museum celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 1991, it expanded to include the extensive collections of the Museum of Native American Cultures (MONAC). A need for more space and a commitment to the AAM's Excellence and Equity program in 1993 resulted in a pre-design study and in 1999 the EWSHS received an $18.7 million capital appropriation from the state to build "A Museum for the New Millennium." The Cheney Cowles Memorial Museum was remodeled to become the Cheney Cowles Center, housing an auditorium, the library and archives, storage and offices. The new museum building incorporated a museum store, café, outdoor amphitheater, and five exhibition galleries. The complex opened in 2001 as the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (commonly known as the MAC). The museum recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.
The museum’s extensive permanent collection serves as the memory of the people of the Inland Northwest. It has been reshaped throughout its history based upon the organization's evolving mission, professional staff who have stayed in tune with national trends in museum operations and American culture, and the financial support of the state and the community. The collection numbers over one million artifacts and ephemera, including fine art and material culture from the Americas, Europe and Asia as well as one of the foremost collections of Plateau tribal objects. Stewardship is central to the museum’s mission and use of the collection is guided by preservation standards that ensure its health for generations to come. The museum balances preservation with public access by supporting loans to other museums nationwide. Displays from the collection change often in content and theme. The museum currently features an open conservation lab that includes objects and art from our permanent collection and teaches visitors how we store, conserve, and display these objects.