Established in 1883 as the Art Association of Indianapolis, the museum relocated from downtown in 1970 after Ruth and Josiah Lilly donated Oldfields, their Country Place Era estate and its accompanying 52 acres. The institution acquired an additional 100 acres bordering the White River around the same time, and Sasaki, Dawson & DeMay were commissioned to plan the extensive landscape.
Located four miles northwest of the city center, the grounds, inclusive of the 52-acre main campus and 100-acre Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park (completed in 2010), function as both an art museum and botanical garden. East of the main museum building is the Sutphin Mall and Fountain, located at the site’s original entrance, with a double allée of red maples, boxwoods, and flowering perennials. Renovated in 1998, the year-round fountain was designed by Stuart Dawson of Sasaki, Dawson & DeMay in 1972 with more than 450 blocks of irregular-sized Indiana bluff limestone and 27 high spraying jets, surrounded by dawn redwoods.
In collaboration with the museum’s Horticultural Society, Sasaki Associates completed a master plan in 1980 while Johnson Johnson & Roy Inc., of Ann Arbor, Michigan contributed an additional long-term master plan in 1987. The museum’s main pavilion entrance is fronted by Nonie’s Garden, a circular garden bed planted in 2008, featuring columnar sweetgums, blue cedars, yews, dogwoods and hundreds of spring tulips. Another notable landscape feature is the Garden for Everyone, a wheelchair-accessible sensory garden designed in 1993 by landscape architect Claire Bennett.