The Memphis College of Art is the only independent college in the South dually accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. It opened on October 5, 1936, as the Memphis Academy of Arts, with classes in drawing, painting, sculpting, and crafts. In an unusual arrangement, both city money and private funds supported the school.
In the 1920s the Memphis Art Association, under the leadership of Florence McIntyre, the first director of the Brooks Memorial Art Gallery, organized free classes in art. Classes moved from the Nineteenth Century Club in 1929 to Adams Avenue when Miss Rosa Lee of the Lee Steamship Line family donated her house (still standing in Victorian Village) to the city. The school became the Lee Academy.
A dispute split the faculty in 1936. McIntyre disapproved of “modern” art and believed in a thoroughly academic training. French-trained George and Henriette Amiard Oberteuffer withdrew from the Lee Academy. The city decided to back their school, the Memphis Academy of Arts, and offered a building. Robert McKnight became director, and Burton Callicott and Dorothy Sturm joined the faculty.
After returning to the Lee property in 1942, the school moved, under the leadership of Ted Rust, to its new location in Overton Park in February 1958. Architects William Mann and Roy Harrover won the design competition for the new building, producing one of the state’s best examples of 1950s modernism.
The name was changed to the Memphis College of Art in 1985, and graduate studies were added in 1987. Having supported the school since its opening, the city gradually withdrew its financial support in the 1990s, though the college continues to grow and thrive. The college offers careers in the fine arts, advertising, graphic design, textile design, and, increasingly, interactive and digital design and applications.