Named for its founder, William Rutherford Mead (an 1867 graduate of Amherst College and a partner in the storied architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White), the Mead holds the art collection of Amherst College, celebrated for its American and European paintings, Mexican ceramics, Tibetan scroll paintings, English paneled room, ancient Assyrian carvings, Russian avant-garde art, West African sculpture and Japanese prints.

The Mead is situated in the vibrant Five Colleges academic community of western Massachusetts, and serves as a laboratory for interdisciplinary research and innovative teaching involving original works of art. Eight galleries feature regularly changing exhibitions and installations spanning a wide range of historical periods and artistic media.