Memphis College of Art

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Memphis College of Art
Memphis College of Art Logo
TypePrivate art college
Location, ,
United States
Campus8 acres
ColorsRed   and White

Coordinates: 35°08′15″N 90°01′14″W / 35.1376°N 90.0205°W / 35.1376; -90.0205

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

Memphis College of Art (MCA) was an independent private college of art and design in Memphis, Tennessee. It was in Overton Park, adjacent to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The college offered Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts in Art Education and Master of Arts in Teaching degrees. Some of the majors included graphic design, drawing, painting, printmaking, book arts, computer arts, photography, animation, and illustration. Its historical background, community involvement, and accomplishments set it apart from other colleges. 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. This is when they 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 discrimination of 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 is reached when computer technology is merged with art by new Academy president, John S. Slorp, in 1982. It takes three more years for the Academy to become the Memphis College of Art. The MCA continues to expand with graduate programs starting in 1987, new student housing in 1992, and a graduate center in 1998. Following these expansions was 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 is created in 2010 and provided the Master of Art Education, Master of Art in Teaching, and Master in Fine Arts programs. Soon after, the Memphis College of Art reached its end on May 9, 2020, with their last Commencement Ceremony.[1][2][3]

MCA in the Community[edit]

The Memphis College of Art has been known to work on many projects within its community. The college created its Fashion Design Certificate Program after collaborating with the Memphis Fashion Design Network. They've 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 has also helped the Overton Park Conservatory to produce safety videos promoting pedestrian safety.[4]

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. It was where students, faculty, staff, alumni, and local artists would get together to sell their artwork to the public. The money received was donated to the school as a way of fundraising for the college.[2]


The Memphis College of Art has accomplished being the only Southern independent college to be recognized by the National Association of Schools and Art Design and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. (SACS)[3]

Notable Alumni[edit]

School Closure[edit]

After 84 years of holding classes, the Memphis College of Art closed in May 2020.[6] 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.[7] This decision was made in October 2017 as the college began preparing for their closure.[8]

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 are seven considerations for what the building may become in the future:

  • Metal Museum – an extension of the 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.[9]


  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. ^ Hine, Laura. "Memphis College of Art's influence? Look around". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  5. ^ Davis, Chris. "The Life and Afterlife of Edward Perry". Memphis Flyer. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  6. ^ "The art of closing: MCA takes high road to the end". Memphis Local, Sports, Business & Food News | Daily Memphian. Retrieved 2021-02-18.
  7. ^ Beifuss, John. "Citing declining enrollment and real estate debt, Memphis College of Art announces impending closure". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2021-02-18.
  8. ^ Sells, Toby. "Memphis College of Art to Close". Memphis Flyer. Retrieved 2021-02-18.
  9. ^ Staff, WMC Action News 5. "Memphis announces finalists to replace Brooks Museum, Memphis College of Art at Overton Park". WMC Action News 5. Retrieved 2021-03-13.

External links[edit]