VCU School of the Arts

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Virginia Commonwealth University
School of the Arts
Type Public university
Dean Joseph H Seipel[1]
Students 3,108[2]
Location Richmond, Virginia, USA
Campus Monroe Park Campus
Nickname VCUarts

Virginia Commonwealth University's School of the Arts, located in Richmond, Virginia, comprises sixteen programs and more than 3,000 students. With the inclusion of the campus in Qatar, come an additional 5 programs and another 214 students. It began as one night class taught by Theresa Pollak in the fall of 1928.[3]

The Fine Arts Building, Monroe Park Campus.


The first important step in the expansion of the curriculum into an entirely new field was the opening in 1928 of the School of Art in a studio constructed in the loft of an old stable. The establishment of the School of Art resulted partly from the encouragement provided by an initial gift of $1,000 by Colonel Abraham Archibald Anderson, a wealthy New York artist; partly from gifts from Richmond citizens of $24,000; partly from a grant of financial assistance made by the State Department of Education; and partly from the willingness of the first teacher, Miss Theresa Pollak, to work in those early years without a salary guarantee.[4]

Around the 1940s and 1950s the School of Art began acquiring some recognition nationwide. A brochure issued by RPI about 1940 carried two photographs which had been published by Life magazine. The school has been for years one of the largest at RPI and its successor, Virginia Commonwealth University. Herbert J. Burgart, who became director about 1966-67 was quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on March 23, 1969, as saying that his information was that it is the "largest professional art school in the country, with 1,200 full-time undergraduate students and 75 graduate students." [5]

Miss Pollak retired in 1970 after more than 40 years of service. At this time the newspapers announced the faculty had increased to 72 full-time and 24 part-time teachers. The new and attractive art school building completed in 1970 is named for that first teacher in the department, Miss Pollak.[6]


VCUarts is ranked the #1 public university and #4 overall school of arts and design in the country by U.S. News & World Report[7]

The following are overall rankings within the United States:

  • #1 - Sculpture
  • #4 - Fiber Arts (Craft/Material Studies)
  • #5 - Graphic Design
  • #5 - Glass (Craft/Material Studies)
  • #7 - Painting
  • #9 - Ceramics (Craft/Material Studies)
  • #10 - Metals/Jewelry (Craft/Material Studies)
  • #10 - Printmaking
  • #13 - Photography/Film
  • #14 - Multimedia/Visual Communications (Communication Arts, Photography & Film, and Kinetic Imaging)

The Department of Interior Design graduate program was ranked as the #4 Interior Design graduate program in the South and #6 nationally by the journal DesignIntelligence in its 2008 edition of "America's Best Architecture & Design Schools". The undergraduate program was ranked #5 regionally.

Departments and Programs[edit]

  • Art Education[8]
  • Art Foundation
  • Art History
  • Film BA (Cinema)
  • Communication Arts
  • Craft/Material Studies
  • Dance & Choreography
  • Fashion Design
  • Fashion Merchandising
  • Graphic Design
  • Interior Design
  • Kinetic Imaging
  • Music
  • Painting & Printmaking
  • Photography & Film
  • Sculpture + Extended Media
  • Theatre

VCU Qatar[edit]

In 1996, a worldwide search began for universities that were regarded as the top schools in their fields, so that an educational center could be created in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar. In 1997, because it was the top ranked public university school of arts and design, VCU School of the Arts was contacted to determine its interest in offering some of the same programs offered on its Richmond campus to students in Doha, Qatar. Consequently, the Shaqab College of Design Arts operated by VCU opened its doors in fall of 1998 to a class of 33 female students enrolled in the equivalent of the Art Foundation Program. Today at VCU Qatar you can earn a BFA in Fashion Design, Graphic Design, Interior Design, or Painting and Printmaking, and a BA in Art History. The school also offers MFA in Design Studies.[9]


Anderson Gallery[edit]

VCU's Anderson Gallery was established through a monetary gift given to the Richmond Professional Institute (RPI) in 1930 by Colonel Abraham Archibald Anderson (1847 Π1940). Colonel Anderson, a gentleman portrait artist who founded the American Art Association in 1890, believed that Richmond would develop, with support, a thriving art community.[10]

Institute of Contemporary Art[edit]

VCUarts has chosen renowned architect, Steven Holl, to design the Virginia Commonwealth University Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA). The ICA will be a non-collecting institution. It will initiate programming and collaborate with other institutions around the world on traveling exhibitions and other events. The facility will enhance and expand the role of the arts on campus, serving as both an academic and extracurricular resource for students and faculty from every department. The mission of this establishment is to serve as an educational and cultural resource for both the University and the City. The building will cost 35 million dollars and is scheduled to open in 2016. It will be positioned as the new gateway to Richmond, at the corner of Broad and Belvidere street.[11]


The ICA's design incorporates many environmentally friendly elements, making use of natural resources whenever possible. This includes the use of geothermal wells to provide heating and cooling energy for the building, green roofs to absorb storm water and maximize insulation, and glass walls designed to exhaust heat in the summer and harness it in the winter. The project is designed to meet LEED platinum certification standards.[12]

Encompassing 38,000 square feet of interior space, the ICA will feature:[12]

  • 10,000 square feet of flexible exhibition space for contemporary art in all media
  • 240+ seat performance space with raked seating, a sprung floor, and excellent acoustics for live performance, cinema screenings, and an array of other public programs
  • State-of-the art classroom accommodating up to 35 students
  • Spacious entry forum for social and community events
  • Sculpture garden with reflecting pool and outdoor space for events, performances, and installations
  • Café with ICA shop
  • Catering kitchen
  • Meeting rooms
  • Offices and support spaces for staff
  • Art storage, prep, and fabrication spaces
  • Loading dock for vehicles of all sizes
  • Parking will be available on site with additional parking nearby, and valet parking services for large events


  • Hibbs, Henry (1973). A History of the Richmond Professional Institute. RPI Foundation by Whittet & Shepperson.