The Ulrich Museum of Art was established in 1974 to enhance and support Wichita State University’s educational and service mission. Then-president Clark Ahlberg believed a superior university should be ever mindful of the thriving city surrounding it. In 1977 he articulated his commitment to this belief: “We have an obligation to reach as many people as possible and to do it with the highest standards—in this case, the highest artistic standards—if we are to properly serve this urban area.” To execute his plan to make art an integral part of university and community life, Ahlberg recruited Dr. Martin H. Bush, formerly of Syracuse University. In 1971 Bush began his 20-year tenure as vice president of Academic Resources, during which he guided the establishment of a museum and collection that today enjoy a national reputation. In 2005 the American Alliance of Museums in Washington, D.C. awarded museum accreditation to the Ulrich as one of only 12 accredited museums in Kansas.
The museum was named in honor of Edwin A. Ulrich, a Hyde Park, New York, businessman who donated his collection of more than 300 works by the early 20th-century painter Frederick Judd Waugh and set up an endowment to support the new institution. The founding of the Ulrich coincided with the construction of a new facility for the museum and the WSU School of Art and Design and Creative Industries, the McKnight Art Center. A 1995 renovation created additional gallery and office space as well as a terraced sculpture court at the entrance.
A key element of President Ahlberg’s master plan for an enhanced university environment in the 1970s was the presence of major works of art situated outdoors throughout the campus. Today the Martin H. Bush Outdoor Sculpture Collection at Wichita State University boasts 81 monumental works by such internationally eminent artists as Arman, Alice Aycock, Fernando Botero, Andy Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth, Luis Alfonso Jimenez, and Claes Oldenburg. In 2006 the journal Public Art Review ranked the Martin H. Bush Outdoor Sculpture Collection among the ten best on an American university campus.