Memphis College of Art

Coordinates: 35°08′45″N 89°59′37″W / 35.1459°N 89.9937°W / 35.1459; -89.9937
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Memphis College of Art
TypePrivate art college
Location, ,
United States
Campus8 acres
ColorsRed   and White

35°08′45″N 89°59′37″W / 35.1459°N 89.9937°W / 35.1459; -89.9937

Memphis College of Art, Rust Hall
James Lee House in Victorian Village

Memphis College of Art (MCA) was a private art college in Memphis, Tennessee. It was in Overton Park, adjacent to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. It offered Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts in Art Education and Master of Arts in Teaching degrees. However, it faced significant financial challenges and closed in the spring of 2020.


The college opened on October 5, 1936 and was once housed in the James Lee House in Victorian Village. When the college opened, it was originally named the Memphis Academy of Art. Before becoming an independent college, it was initially named the James Lee Memorial Academy of Art and was funded by the Memphis Art Association. Their independence was declared after a dispute with the Memphis Art Association's director, Florence M. McIntyre, who disapproved of their acceptance of modernism. The school then officially opened as the Mid-South School of Fine Arts, soon renamed as the Memphis Academy of Art.

From 1959 until its closing, the main building of the college was Rust Hall in Overton Park, an award-winning example of mid-century architecture designed by Roy Harrover with his company, Harrover & Mann. In its opening, the college hired a total of eleven African American teachers, despite the pervasiveness of racial discrimination nationally in 1961. Later, the position of the Memphis Academy of Art's first president was assigned to Dr. Jameson M. Jones, in 1976. Under new leadership, a milestone was reached when computer technology was merged with art by new Academy president John S. Slorp in 1982. Three years later, the Academy was renamed the Memphis College of Art.

The MCA continued to expand with graduate programs starting in 1987, new student housing in 1992, and a graduate center in 1998. Following these expansions came the addition of the Metz Hall, named after Charles B. Metz and paid for by his family's donation of $1,000,000 to the college. Then, the Nesin Graduate School was created in 2010, offering the Master of Arts Education, Master of Arts in Teaching, and Master in Fine Arts programs. Soon after, the Memphis College of Art reached its end on May 9, 2020, with its final Commencement Ceremony.[1][2][3]


After 84 years of holding classes, the Memphis College of Art closed in May 2020.[4] They were forced to close after facing debt and declined enrollment. The college stated that they had no future plans for fixing their troubling financial situation and the Board of Directors of the Memphis College of Art had to ultimately vote against keeping the college open.[5] This decision was made in October 2017 as the college began preparing for their closure.[6]

In May, 2022 the Metal Museum signed a lease for the site of the former art college.[7]

Future of the building[edit]

Following the closure of MCA, the City of Memphis requested the public to provide ideas for the building's replacement. As of July 2019, there were seven considerations for what the building may become in the future:

  • Memphis Metal Museum
  • Overton Park Visitor's Center – a multi-use communal space.
  • Reimagining Rust Hall – a creative workspace for creators and businesses.
  • Arrow At Overton – an incubator for the creative arts.
  • Overton Arts Hotel – a hotel and arts center.
  • Repurposing Rust Hall & the Brooks Building – a learning animation studio.
  • Co.llab – a community hub and entrepreneurship incubator.[8]

As noted above, the Metal Museum option was eventually selected.

MCA in the community[edit]

The Memphis College of Art was involved with many projects within its community. The college created its Fashion Design Certificate Program after collaborating with the Memphis Fashion Design Network. They also extended a hand to the Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in their MCA Le Monster exhibition, which showcased revisions of the children's drawings for the hospital's Le Bonheur television channel. The college also helped the Overton Park Conservatory produce safety videos promoting pedestrian safety.[9]

MCA events[edit]

MCA would host many events which were specific to their college. One being the Annual Costume Ball, which was where the students would create original costumes which represented characteristics from pieces of art. These balls had various themes and would end with a crowned king and queen. However, this tradition ended in the late 1960s. The college also had a Community Education Program where they would offer art classes to adults and children through either their Saturday School, Summer Art Camp, Free Family Art Workshops, the Fashion Design Certificate Program, or community outreach events. Nevertheless, Memphis College of Art's most notable event was their Annual Holiday Bazaar and Fundraiser, which started in 1950 and was one of their longest held traditions. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, and local artists would gather at this annual event to sell their artwork to the public. The money received raised funds for the college.[2]


The Memphis College of Art was the only Southern independent college accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. (SACS)[3]

Notable alumni[edit]


  1. ^ "LYNDA: Page + Site Settings". Retrieved 2021-02-18.
  2. ^ a b "Catalog". Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  3. ^ a b Randal Rust. "Memphis College of Art". Tennessee Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  4. ^ "The art of closing: MCA takes high road to the end". Memphis Local, Sports, Business & Food News | Daily Memphian. Retrieved 2021-02-18.
  5. ^ Beifuss, John. "Citing declining enrollment and real estate debt, Memphis College of Art announces impending closure". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2021-02-18.
  6. ^ Sells, Toby. "Memphis College of Art to Close". Memphis Flyer. Retrieved 2021-02-18.
  7. ^ Ellis, Susan. Metal Museum signs lease for Rust Hall on the site of the former Memphis College of Art's Rust Hall in Overton Park. Memphis Business Journal, May 31, 2022.
  8. ^ Staff, WMC Action News 5 (26 July 2019). "Memphis announces finalists to replace Brooks Museum, Memphis College of Art at Overton Park". WMC Action News 5. Retrieved 2021-03-13.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Hine, Laura. "Memphis College of Art's influence? Look around". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2021-02-17.

External links[edit]