The School of the Arts, Pride of Winston-Salem and North Carolina

William Ball leads a drama class at NCSA, circa 1965.-66 Photo courtesy of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Archives.On June 21, 1963, what’s now the UNC School of Arts (UNCSA) was chartered by the General Assembly as the nation’s first public arts conservatory.

The idea for the school—known until 2008 as the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA)—came from then Governor Terry Sanford and Asheville-born author John Ehle.

In addition to providing a $325,000 appropriation, the 1963 legislation established an advisory board of nationally-renowned artists to select a site for the school. The board sought a community that would be engaged with the school, and the citizens of Winston-Salem responded by raising more than $850,000 for the new institution in a two-day phone drive.

High school and undergraduate level classes began in September 1965 on the old campus of Winston-Salem’s Gray High School. The school’s first chancellor was composer and Julliard School instructor Vittorio Giannini.

A $1.5 million challenge grant from the Ford Foundation helped NCSA expand its offerings, and the school became part of the UNC system in 1972. Throughout the 1980s, NCSA continued to expand its offerings, adding its first graduate program in 1982.

Today, UNCSA is one of the nation’s premier creative and performing arts conservatories offering programs across five disciplines—dance, design and production, drama, filmmaking and music.

For more, check out a guide to the school’s history, which features a timeline, important early documents and more on the UNCSA Archives website.

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