In April 1952, the Tyler Service League formed the first Community Arts Committee. Because there was not an art museum within one hundred miles of Tyler, they knew there were many children who had no opportunity to see and experience works of art. "Picture Ladies" from the Tyler Service League took prints to 5th and 6th grade classrooms, rotating the prints once each week. This program continued and in 1960 they purchased the property known as the Jamie T. Smith home and established an art center there. They remodeled the house, designating space for traveling exhibitions and a children's arts and crafts program. In 1965, the League sold this property and set aside funds with the goal of establishing an art museum for Tyler.

The Tyler Service League became the Junior League of Tyler, and through its efforts the Tyler Museum of Art was opened in 1971. It is a non-profit organization governed by a Board of Trustees. The mission of the Tyler Museum of Art is to exist as an educational and cultural center to enrich the lives of East Texas citizens and visitors through the collection, preservation, study, exhibition, interpretation, and celebration of the visual arts.

The Museum is housed today in an award-winning structure nestled on a tree-shaded site, adjacent to the campus of Tyler Junior College. The building contains two major exhibition galleries on the ground floor, the North Gallery and the Bell Gallery. There is also a library, classroom, café, and gift shop.

The Tyler Museum of Art's growing permanent collection features over 1200 works including paintings, prints, photographs, and sculpture by artists such as James Surls, Vernon Fisher, Alexander Calder, Terry Allen, and Charles Umlauf.

From its inception, the Museum concentrated on exhibitions of 19th and 20th century art and gained recognition for its particular emphasis on the work of emerging contemporary artists from Texas and surrounding states. For the past few years, exhibitions have included a greater variety of styles as the Museum has endeavored to more fully represent the diversity and interests of the community. Recent exhibitions have ranged from 18th and 19th century British teapots from the Norwich Castle Museum in England to 16th and 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings. Other exhibits have featured Edward Hopper, Jun Kaneko, and Norman Rockwell, as well as a comprehensive retrospective of the work of the late Louisiana artist Clyde Connell.