The Louisville Art Association was founded in 1909 by a local group of artists and art enthusiasts. Its purpose was to promote art and culture in the city by exhibiting the works of well-known painters and sculptors. The association's organizers hoped to receive sufficient funding from private and business sources so the public could view the shows free of charge. Almost immediately after its incorporation, association administrators secured the use of the third floor of the Louisville Free Public Library on York Street for its exhibits, the first of which occurred in June 1909. That show featured thirty-five of the most prominent artists of the early twentieth century: Mary Cassatt, Frederick Remington, and Charles Dana Gibson to name only a few. An estimated 4,000 people attended the event. The First World War proved disruptive to the efforts of this organization and its offshoots, but by 1920 it had regained its momentum.
Believing that too much attention was being given to New York and international artists, a group of local artisans separated from the art association in 1910 and formed their own organization, the Louisville Artists League. This group's purpose was to encourage and promote local artistry. Four years later, still another group, the Handicraft Guild, formed their own association so they could exhibit the works of local craftworkers who were not painters or sculptors.
In 1925, the Louisville Art Association initiated its Children's Free Art Classes which were taught by Fayette Barnum, an instructor for the Handicraft Guild. Four years later the Handicraft Guild opened its own school, the Art Center School, and changed its name to the Art Center of Louisville. Fayette Barnum became the Guild school's first director.
Nearly a decade after its opening, Raymond Kent, President of the University of Louisville, asked the Guild to move its Art Center school closer to the UL campus so students could conveniently attend courses at both sites. Mrs. Morris Belknap donated a brick house located on South First Street and the Carnegie Foundation awarded a $5,000 grant enabling the Art Center to accede to Dr. Kent's request. This marked the beginning of a long fruitful association between the two schools. In 1943 the Art Center of Louisville and the Louisville Art Association merged to become the Art Center Association. A one million dollar bequest from Marcia S. Hite prompted UL to establish the Allen R. Hite Art Institute in 1949. Despite this, the university and the Art Center school continued their relationship until 1960 when they at last parted ways.
In 1950 the Junior Art Gallery was founded. The gallery was located on the top floor of the Free Public Library, the site of the Louisville Art Association's first exhibit. In 1954, the Art Center added Dr. Spafford Ackerly, a psychiatrist, to its board of directors, a move that would eventuate in the establishment of UL's Institute of Expressive Therapies.
In 1968 the Art Center School's name was changed to the Louisville School of Art and its emphasis was shifted away from being a community cultural organization toward a professional institute. In 1969 the school was moved to Anchorage, in the east end of Jefferson County. Five years later, the school was incorporated as an agency separate from the art association. In 1981 the school returned to the city occupying the Cloister on East Chestnut Street. For financial reasons the Louisville School of Art was forced to close in 1983. It was absorbed by the University of Louisville which awarded its first B.F.A. degree in the spring semester of the following year.
In 1977 a Visual Arts Advisory Council was formed to obtain advice and ideas from local professional artists. The Louisville Art Center Association moved to the Water Tower on River Road in May of 1980. Under the directorship of Jan Arnow, the Water Tower Art Association began sponsoring annual events not only to showcase the talents of local artists and craftworkers, but also to raise money for them and for the association. In 1984 the association again changed its name to the Water Tower Art Association in order to identify itself with its new home. The Water Tower Art Association, like the Louisville Art Association, is dedicated to serving the needs of the artists of this community as well as the community's need for art.
Much of the information in this history was extrapolated from Madeline Covi, Dorothy Kohnhorst Hodapp, and Charlotte Price, compilers, Tapestry of an Art Association, 1909-1984, Louisville: Water Tower Art Association, 1984.