The Dallas Art Institute, established in 1926 by artists Kathryne Hail and Olin Herman Travis, was initially located at 1215½ Main Street. It was the first art school in Dallas to offer instruction in several fields. Painting and drawing were emphasized, with classes offered in portraiture, landscape and still-life painting, composition, and life drawing. Classes in sculpture, commercial art, and fashion drawing were also available. In 1927 Kathryn Hail Travis organized the Ozark Summer School, an adjunct of the institute, in Cass, Arkansas, an abandoned sawmill town in the Ozark Mountains. The summer classes enabled students to sketch and paint outdoors in a naturally beautiful environment. The institute operated with a faculty of eight and had some 200 students until the early 1930s, when the Great Depression placed a damper on attendance.
The Dallas Art Institute was subsequently reorganized with a civic board, and in 1931 moved to the grounds of the Civic Federation at 2419 Maple Avenue. Another series of changes was instituted in the summer of 1932 in an attempt to establish the institute as the preeminent art school in the Southwest. Architect Thomas D. Broad was named executive director, a new position, to act as liaison between the board of trustees and the school. Associate instructors were hired to conduct special classes in such areas as outdoor sketching, watercolor, ceramics, and stage design, thus extending the range of learning opportunities available to the students. Finally, a series of lectures and exhibitions was inaugurated to serve the Dallas community. By 1934 two degrees were offered by the school: a certificate of attainment earned after a three-year course, and a diploma awarded after four years of study.
The Dallas Art Institute exerted its greatest influence from 1931 to 1935. Its location at the corner of Maple Avenue and Alice Street placed the school in a thriving art colony that included the Southwest School of Fine Arts, the Klepper Sketch Club, and the Alice Street Art carnivals sponsored by the Dallas Art League, which met nearby. Director Olin Travis championed the work of the new generation of regionalist artists and hired Allie V. Tennant, Alexandre Hogue, Thomas M. Stell, Jr., Harry P. Carnohan, Jerry Bywaters, and other leaders of the regionalist group to teach at the institute. Stell's emphasis on draftsmanship and his interest in early Italian and Flemish artists were particularly influential in shaping the styles of his students.
In 1935 the need for larger quarters prompted the institute to move to a remodeled residence at 2503 McKinney Avenue. The institute moved to the school wing of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the Dallas Museum of Art) in 1938, where it remained until 1941. At that time the trustees of the Dallas Art Association decided to establish their own museum school, and the Dallas Art Institute moved to a new location at 1912½ Main. By 1945 the school had closed, but its impact on Texas art continued through its graduates who became professional artists and teachers, among whom Merritt T. Mauzey, William Lester, Everett Spruce, Florence McClung, Bertha Landers, Lloyd Goff, and Michael G. Owen, Jr., were some of the most distinguished.