Cornish College of the Arts

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Cornish College of the Arts
Cornish seal.png
Established 1914
Type Private, non-profit
Location Seattle, Washington, United States
47°37′04″N 122°20′10″W / 47.617868°N 122.336171°W / 47.617868; -122.336171Coordinates: 47°37′04″N 122°20′10″W / 47.617868°N 122.336171°W / 47.617868; -122.336171
Like Kerry Hall, Cornish's main Denny Triangle building is also on the National Register of Historic Places

Cornish College of the Arts is a fully accredited institution in the Denny Triangle and Capitol Hill neighborhoods of Seattle, Washington, USA that offers the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance, Theater, Performance Production, Design, and Fine Art, as well as the Bachelor of Music degree. Cornish College of the Arts is the oldest music conservatory on the west coast. Today it is nationally recognized as a premier college for the visual and performing arts, and one of only three fully accredited private colleges in the entire nation dedicated to educating both performing and visual artists.

Founded as the Cornish School of Music, the name was changed a few years later to Cornish School of Allied Arts; in 1977 it became the Cornish Institute of Allied Arts, and in 1986, the Cornish College of the Arts.[1]

Cornish College of the Arts Mission Statement:

The mission of Cornish College of the Arts is to provide students aspiring to become practicing artists with an educational program of the highest possible quality, in an environment that nurtures creativity and intellectual curiosity, while preparing them to contribute to society as artists, citizens, and innovators. Cornish realizes this mission by offering baccalaureate studies in the performing and visual arts and by serving as a focal point in the community for public presentation, artistic criticism, participation and discussion of the arts.

Cornish was founded in 1914, as the Cornish School, by pianist and voice teacher Nellie Cornish (1876–1956), who was influenced by the pedagogical ideas of Maria Montessori, as well as Calvin Brainerd Cady's ideas on music pedagogy,[citation needed] and who served as the school's director for its first 25 years. Within three years it had enrolled over 600 students, and was the country's largest music school west of Chicago.[2][3]

The Cornish School began its operations in rented space in the Boothe (or Booth[4]) Building on Broadway and Pine Street. Initially, the school taught only children, but it soon expanded to functioning also as a normal school (roughly what would now be called a teachers' college). While music was at the heart of the curriculum, Cornish recruited opportunistically where she saw talent, and the school soon offered classes as diverse as eurhythmics, French language, painting, dance (folk and ballet), and theater.[5][6] In 1916, Cornish became one of the first West Coast schools of any type to offer a summer session.[7] The school had the first marionette department in the United States.[8] By 1919, the school was offering classes and lessons from early childhood to the undergraduate level.[9] The school gathered a board of trustees from among Seattle's elite, who funded her school through the hard economic times during and after World War I, and raised money for a purpose-built school building.[6] By 1923, opera and modern dance had been added to the curriculum as well.[10]

The Cornish Trio of the 1920s—Peter Meremblum,[citation needed] Berthe Poncy (later Berthe Poncy Jacobson[11]), and Kola Levienne—may have been the first chamber music group resident at an American school.[12] In 1935, Cornish established the first (but ultimately short-lived) college-level school of radio broadcasting in the U.S.[13]

Through the 1920s, the school was often on the edge of financial failure,[14] but was of a caliber that prompted Anna Pavlova to call it "the kind of school other schools should follow."[15] Although the mortgage was paid off and the building donated to the school in 1929,[16] financial difficulties inevitably grew during the Great Depression.[17] Ultimately, convinced that finances would not allow the school to do more than "tread water," Nellie Cornish resigned her position as head of the school in 1939.[18]

While there were difficult years for the school after 1939, in the long run Cornish did much more than "tread water." With support from local arts organizations and a core of dedicated faculty and staff, the school ultimately "reinvented" itself many times, and in 1977 earned full accreditation as a degree granting college from the Northwest Commission on Colleges. That was one year after the establishment of the Theatre Department as the fifth fully fledged academic department. In 1982, the college received a large Title III grant which was instrumental in establishing the Video Art program in the Art department, and in the genesis of the Performance Production Department, which was granted full departmental status with the graduation of its first class in 1986. The BFA in Performance Production added concentrations in Costume, Lighting, Scenic and Sound Design, Stage Management and Technical Direction. Performance Production was established as an independent department so that it would be able to provide support to major productions of the Theatre, Dance and Music departments and provide its students with experience in all three. Recognizing the vital importance of liberal arts studies as a part of the education of an artist, Cornish established its seventh department, Humanities and Sciences, some years later. Humanities and Sciences had been an important part of the Cornish education even before the accreditation process of the '70s, but the important step of granting department status reaffirmed the commitment to "whole person" education.

Miss Aunt Nellie: The Autobiography of Nellie C. Cornish, was published by the University of Washington Press in 1964, with the assistance of funds from the Cornish School Alumnae Association.


Kerry Hall, Cornish's oldest building and the last part of Cornish remaining on Seattle's Capitol Hill.

Cornish's 1921 building, now known as Kerry Hall, is on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) as "Cornish School";[19] its Denny Triangle building is also listed on the NRHP, as the "William Volker Building".[20] The Raisbeck Performance Hall is a Seattle City Landmark under the name "Old Norway Hall".[21]

Cornish School
Cornish College of the Arts is located in Washington (state)
Cornish College of the Arts
Location 710 E. Roy St., Seattle, Washington
Coordinates 47°37′32″N 122°19′19″W / 47.62556°N 122.32194°W / 47.62556; -122.32194
Area less than one acre
Built 1921
Architectural style Other, Spanish Colonial Revival
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 77001337[22]
Added to NRHP August 29, 1977
Volker, William, Building
Location 1000 Lenora St., Seattle, Washington
Coordinates 47°37′6″N 122°20′30″W / 47.61833°N 122.34167°W / 47.61833; -122.34167
Area less than one acre
Built 1928
Architectural style Art Deco
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 83004236[22]
Added to NRHP October 13, 1983


The library at Cornish College specializes in art, dance, design, music, performance production, and theatre. As of 2011 it held 4,700 CDs, 40,000 books, has 2,200 videos, and subscribed to 154 periodicals. Its special collections include an image collection and 35mm slides.[23]


Notable faculty[edit]





Richard E.T. White, Chair

  • Geoffrey Alm (Stage Combat)
  • Ellen Boyle (Physical Technique, Yoga)
  • Caroline Brown (Applied Theater)
  • Bonnie Cohen (retired)
  • Kathleen Collins (Directing, Audition Technique, Senior Seminar)
  • Tinka Gutrick-Dailey (Dance)
  • Sheila Daniels (Audition Technique)
  • Elizabeth Heffron (Playwriting, Senior Seminar)
  • Marya Sea Kaminski (Acting/Improvisation & Collaboration)
  • Alyssa Keene (Voice and Speech)
  • Frances Leah King (Singing)
  • Sarah Grace Marsh (Contemporary Theater Studies)
  • Peter Guiles (Acting for the Camera)
  • Keira McDonald (Physical Technique, Solo Performance)
  • Kate Myre (Voice and Speech, Voiceover, Dialects)
  • Lisa Norman (Acting)
  • Timothy McCuen Piggee (Acting/Text Analysis,Musical Theater)
  • Carol Roscoe (Business of Theater, Senior Seminar)
  • Jodi Rothfield (Audition for the Camera)
  • Hal Ryder (Acting/Classical Text)
  • Kerry Skalsky (Literature of Theater, Acting)
  • Robin Lynn Smith (Acting)
  • Rhonda J. Soikowski (Voice, Audition))
  • Christine Sumption (Literatire of Theater)
  • David Taft (Clown, Mask, Physical Technique)
  • Amy Thone (Acting, Audition Technique)
  • Stephanie Timm (Playwriting)
  • Katjana Vadeboncoeur (Neo-Burlesque, Senior Seminar)
  • Scott Warrender (Music Theory)
  • Terri Weagant (Speech, Dialects)
  • John Kendall Wilson (Theater History, Resident Dramaturg)
  • Liz Callaway (Tony-nominated Musical Theater performer)
  • Martin Charnin (Tony and Emmy-award-winning playwright-lyricist-director)
  • Rodney Cottier (LAMDA)
  • Ping Chong (artist in residence)
  • Chuck Cooper (Tony Award-winning performer)
  • Rinde Eckert (artist in residence)
  • Hand2Mouth Theatre, Portland OR
  • Geoff Hoyle (clown and actor)
  • Bill Irwin (Tony Award-winning actor and clown)
  • Larry Pisoni (clown, founder of Pickle Family Circus)
  • Faith Prince (Tony-Award winning performer)
  • Jayson McDonald (solo performer)
  • Meredith Monk (artist in residence)
  • Douglas Sills (Tony-nominated performer)
  • Matt Smith (solo performer)
  • Octavio Solis (playwright)
  • That Girl Entertainment, Australia (solo performance)
  • Theatre Replacement, Vancouver BC
  • UMO Ensemble (physical theater artists)
  • Andrew Wade (voice and speech teacher, RSC)
  • Lauren Weedman (solo performer)
  • Brian Yorkey (Tony and Pulitzer-winning playwright-lyricist-director)

Performance Production[edit]

  • Carl Bronsdon (Costume Design; Costume Shop Supervisor)
  • Melanie Burgess (Costume Design)
  • Greg Carter (Stage Management; Production TD)
  • Ron Erickson (Costume Design)
  • Karen Gjelsteen (Scenic Design)
  • Peter Guiles (Video; Production for Actors)
  • Peter Dylan O'Connor (Production for Actors; Scene Shop Supervisor)
  • J. Richard Smith (Literature of Theatre; Dept Coordinator)
  • Matthew Smucker (Scenic Design)
  • Dave Tosti-Lane (Sound Design; Dept. Chair)

Fine Art[edit]

Notable alumni[edit]




  • Jane Adams (actor)
  • Hans Altwies (actor-producer, New Century Theater, Seattle)
  • Kjerstine Anderson (actor, Oregon Shakespeare Festival)
  • Brenda Arellano (writer-performer, Neo-Futurists, Chicago)
  • Mallery Avidon (playwright-director)
  • Sherrine Azab (director, A Host of People, Detroit)
  • Brett Baker (actor)
  • Gabriel Baron (actor-writer-director)
  • Greg Bennick (director-juggler)
  • Margot Bordelon (director)
  • Skye Borgman (cinematographer)
  • Wolfe Bowart (clown-physical theater writer-performer)
  • Emily Chisholm (actor)
  • Joshua Conkel (playwright-producer-director, The Management, NYC)
  • Brendan Fraser(actor-producer)
  • Malte Frid-Nielsen (actor-jiu jitsu Black Belt,Denmark)
  • David Gasman(actor-director-voiceover artist)
  • Jose Gonzales (actor-musician, Jose Gonzales Trio)
  • Lisa Halpern (screenwriter)
  • Jessica Hatlo (playwright-director)
  • Megan Hill (actor-producer, The Management, NYC)
  • Jake Hooker (writer-director-scholar, A Host of People, Detroit)
  • Diana Huey (actor-singer)
  • Kate Huisentruit, Producer, New Day Northwest, KING-5 TV
  • Jinkx Monsoon (Jerick Hoffer) (actor-singer)
  • Chet Huntley (NBC broadcast legend)
  • Alyssa Keene (actress-singer/musician-teacher-voice and dialect coach)
  • Robert Laughlin (E! Network)
  • C.S. Lee (Actor, Showtime's Dexter)
  • Eleuthera Lisch (YMCA Alive and Free)
  • Natasha Martina (Associate Professor of Drama, University of Saskatchewan)
  • Ryan Mitchell (St. Genet)
  • Ramiz Monsef (actor-writer/hip-hip performer, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Three Blind Mice)
  • Charles Norris (actor, 2012 Seattle Times Footlight Award)
  • Mandie O'Connell (Knuckle Cartel, Berlin)
  • Peter Dylan O'Connor (actor-producer-technical director, New Century Theatre)
  • Beethovan Oden (actor)
  • Brandon Olson (performer-stylist, NYC)
  • James Oliver (actor)
  • Alex Pschill (actor, Vienna)
  • Wayne Rawley (playwright-director)
  • Don Darryl Rivera (actor-composer-playwright)
  • Stephanie Roberts (Assistant Professor of Physical Theatre, UMKC)
  • Elizabeth Rose-Browne (actor-singer, Wexford, Ireland)
  • Courtney Sale (director, The Duplicates, Austin TX)
  • Cassy Sanders (director, Theatre Seven of Chicago)
  • MJ Sieber (actor-director, New Century Theatre)
  • Julia Sirna-Frest (actor-singer, Half Straddle Theater, NY, and Doll Parts, Brooklyn)
  • Lanise Antoine Shelley (actor-writer-visual artist)
  • Kerry Skalsky (actor, teacher)
  • Yuri Skujins (Target Margin Theatre, NY)
  • Rhonda J. Soikowski (director-theater maker-teacher, soikowski research/performance)
  • Asa Taccone (writer-composer-performer, Electric Guest, Emmy award-winner)
  • Chris Tharp (author, Dispatches from the Peninsula and Homely Planet blog)
  • Connor Toms (actor)
  • Deedra Watts (Deedra Watts Casting, LA)
  • Lady Rizo AKA Amelia Rose Zirin-Brown (cabaret performer-actor)

Fine Art[edit]




  1. ^ Guide to the Cornish School of Allied Arts Records, 1893-1989;
  2. ^ Berner 1991, pp. 92–93
  3. ^ Nate Lippens, short item on Cornish as part of "People Who Shaped Seattle", Seattle Metropolitan, May 2006, p. 59. Brenden Fraser went to Cornish and graduated with honors.
  4. ^ Mildred Andrews, Cornish School, HistoryLink Essay 596, December 26, 1998, updated on June 28, 2006. Retrieved 2010-05-25.
  5. ^ Cornish 1964, pp. 89–113
  6. ^ a b Berner 1991, pp. 93–94
  7. ^ Cornish 1964, p. 97
  8. ^ Cornish 1964, p. 109
  9. ^ Cornish 1964, pp. 112–113
  10. ^ Cornish 1964, pp. 133–134
  11. ^ Cornish 1964, pp. 170–171
  12. ^ Cornish 1964, pp. 160–161
  13. ^ Cornish 1964, pp. 245–249
  14. ^ Cornish 1964, pp. 154, 161–162
  15. ^ Cornish 1964, p. 163
  16. ^ Cornish 1964, pp. 204–205
  17. ^ Cornish 1964, p. passim.
  18. ^ Cornish 1964, pp. passim, esp. p. 252–261. The reference to "treading water" is on p. 255.
  19. ^ WASHINGTON - King County (page 2), National Register of Historic Places. Accessed online 31 January 2008.
  20. ^ WASHINGTON - King County (page 5), National Register of Historic Places. Accessed online 31 January 2008.
  21. ^ Landmarks Alphabetical Listing for O, Individual Landmarks, City of Seattle. Accessed 28 December 2007.
  22. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  23. ^ American Library Directory 2 (64th ed.). Information Today, Inc. 2011–2012. pp. 2568–2576. ISBN 978-1-57387-411-3. 
  24. ^ Chansanchai, Athima. "Looking for a Blue Man Isn't All Black and White -" Seattle News, Sports, Events, Entertainment | - Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <>.
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Who dresses Johnny Depp? Costumer Colleen Atwood, a Northwest native". The Seattle Times. December 11, 2010. 


  • Mildred Andrews, Cornish School, HistoryLink Essay 596, December 26, 1998, updated on June 28, 2006.
  • Berner, Richard C. (1991), Seattle 1900-1920: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence, to Restoration, Charles Press, ISBN 0-9629889-0-1 
  • Cornish, Nellie C. (1964), Browne, Ellen Van Volkenburg; Beck, Edward Nordhoff, eds., Miss Aunt Nellie. The autobiography of Nellie C. Cornish, foreword by Nancy Wilson Ross, Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press 

External links[edit]