The U of L Art Gallery’s history begins with the decision to focus the university on a liberal arts education and thus to hire a high profile architect, Arthur Erickson, to design the main campus building in 1967. The first section of campus opened in 1972. In 1981, a second building phase, which included a Centre for the Arts, allowed the Art Gallery to move into a custom designed art gallery exhibition space where it is still located. With the vision of previous director Jeffrey Spalding, the U of L developed a nationally renowned art collection that plays a central role in the liberal arts philosophy on campus and in the exceptional visual arts community in Lethbridge. In 2001 Josephine Mills was appointed Director/Curator of the Art Gallery and has since established a strong exhibition, publication and research program while maintaining the highest level of collections management.
To meet the needs of the collection, an above ground art vault was built in 1999 to house large works; the space adjacent to the main gallery was renovated in 2000 to hold small works and works-on-paper as well as to create an area for studying works from the collection; and an incoming/outgoing art handling space was also renovated in 2000 and further up-dated in 2003. A comprehensive registration database provides accurate and immediate access to all necessary collections management information. In 2001, a satellite space, the Helen Christou Gallery, opened in the area joining the new library facility to the Centre for the Arts. The Helen Christou Gallery, although small in stature, provides a significant increase in public access because it is located in a prominent location that is part of the main pedestrian route for visitors to campus.