Opened as the Isaac Delgado Art Museum in 1911, it was renamed the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1971. In the early 1900s, wealthy sugar broker Isaac Delgado wrote the following to the City Park Board about his intention to build an art museum:
"I have been lead to believe that you would willingly donate in the park the site for a building I propose erecting to be known as the ‘Isaac Delgado Museum of Art.' My desire is to give to the citizens of New Orleans a fireproof building where works of art may be collected through gifts or loans and where exhibits can be held from time to time by the Art Association of New Orleans".
The board approved his request and designated the circular area at the end of what would become Lelong Avenue for the museum.
In 1970, The Edward Wisner Foundation funded the Wisner Education Wing, a three-level addition to the left side of the original building. In 1988, Lin Emery's kinetic sculpture was donated to the museum and mounted in a pool of water lilies in front of the museum entrance. In 1993, the museum underwent a $23 million expansion and renovation project, adding exhibition space to the right and rear of the original building.
As you pass the museum on your right, you will cross the City Park Railroad tracks and view the entrance of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. In the late 1990s, New Orleans drug store magnate Sidney Besthoff of K&B Drugs donated his personal sculpture collection to the museum. The sculpture garden was expanded to include an additional six-acres of parkland in 2019.