The mission of the National Gallery of Art is to serve the United States of America in a national role by preserving, collecting, exhibiting, and fostering the understanding of works of art, at the highest possible museum and scholarly standards.
Policies and procedures towards these goals are cumulatively set forth in the Gallery's legislation, bylaws, trustee action and staff guidelines. The following general definitions are intended to explicate the goals of the Gallery.
1. Preserving. The Gallery's principal duty is to keep its collections intact for future generations and to pass these on in optimum condition. To carry out this responsibility the Gallery strives to maintain effective programs of security, environmental control, buildings maintenance, and conservation.
2. Collection. The Gallery limits its active art collecting to paintings, sculpture, and works of art on paper, from the late middle ages to the present, from Europe and the United States. Trustee policy allows the Gallery to accept, in addition, other significant works of art in conjunction with major donations in the primary areas of the Gallery's collections.
3. Exhibiting. The Gallery is dedicated to putting its collections on view in Washington and by loan elsewhere, as well as borrowing works of art for exhibition in Washington. As its collecting field is narrow in comparison to the world's art, the Gallery strives to supplement its own works with exhibitions of material from other times and other cultures. At the same time balance is sought with exhibitions that illuminate and reinforce its own collections. The highest standards of scholarship, maintenance, installation, and interaction with the public all contribute to this critical exhibiting role.
4. Fostering Understanding. The Gallery's role as an institution dedicated to fostering an understanding of works of art operates on a broad spectrum. From advanced research conducted both at its Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts and by its curators, to the dissemination of knowledge to its visitors and to the widest possible student and general public, the Gallery is an educative institution. The Gallery also collects materials for research related to its collections, as well as the history and appreciation of art in general. The Gallery recognizes that not only the dissemination of information but the enhancement of the aesthetic experience are essential to fostering understanding of works of art. Ancillary programs furthering its aesthetic role, such as concerts and changing horticultural displays, have been part of the Gallery's mission virtually since its inception.