The Salina Art Center was founded in 1978 by artists, educators, and community members who envisioned a gallery and education center that would actively engage North-central Kansas residents in art experiences of high quality and intellectual integrity.

Housed originally on the Kansas Wesleyan University campus, the Art Center increased its capacity for exhibitions and education programs in 1988–1989, when the Board of Trustees purchased and renovated a larger, more accessible new home in downtown Salina. In 1997, the Art Center Cinema was created one block away from the main facility, and in 2004, a downtown warehouse building was donated for renovation as a live/work space for extended artist residencies and education.

Funded by gifts and memberships from individuals, businesses, and foundations; through competitive local, state, and federal grants; and supported with in-kind services from the City of Salina, the Art Center has grown from a volunteer-based organization with one part-time employee to a nationally recognized institution offering a comprehensive menu of exhibitions, art education, film, and artist-community interaction.