When the second Morrison Library (currently Morrison Hall) was completed in 1939, the first Morrison Library, on the present site of the Ulrich Museum of Art, became the home of the visual arts. When the building was destroyed by a fire in 1964, the then Municipal University of Wichita constructed a small two-story building on the site which became known as the Art Building. Subsequently, the university received funds from the McKnight estate and state and federal money to build a new facility.
The new complex is composed of three wings:
- McKnight West provides teaching studios for faculty in the School of Art and Design and houses the Clayton Staples Gallery.
- The east wing houses offices for the School of Art and Design and gallery space for the Ulrich Museum.
- The original structure, the Art Building, now known as McKnight North, has faculty offices and teaching studios.
The building is connected to the Ulrich Museum of Art by an enclosed, second-story walkway that spanned WSU’s Perimeter Road until 2009, when the road was rerouted to the west of the building. The ground-level space between the two buildings was landscaped into a small courtyard where small concerts, receptions and other events are often held.