Nine decades have passed since the first year of art classes at Richmond Professional Institute concluded. From the seeds of a single painting class, founder Theresa Pollak and the faculty members she invited to campus grew a small program into a leading southern art school. In the half-century since her retirement, VCUarts has expanded its curriculum into every major creative field and become the top ranked public art school in the nation. VCUarts alumni have changed the world, faculty and staff members have become local legends, and students have proved to the city of Richmond that artists are essential and powerful members of our community.
Together, over the course of this yearlong retrospective, we’ve celebrated Theresa Pollak’s pioneering leadership and the suffragettes who inspired her, Nell Blaine (BFA ’42) thriving as a polio survivor, Judith Godwin (BFA ’52) challenging the 1950s dress code, the unprecedented BANG Arts Festival of the 1960s, the birth of GWAR in the 1980s, how Dean Murry DePillars brought the city together through art, the first modern art gallery in Richmond, the comic book heroes among our alumni, the creation of the cinema program, decades of student publications, the first video dance class, the discovery of a Van Gogh etching on campus, and many more incredible moments.
The 90th anniversary campaign would have been impossible to execute without the generous work of our contributors and partners.
VCUarts would like to especially thank Sarah Kleinman (MA ’16), art history PhD candidate, whose research illuminated our understanding of Theresa Pollak’s life and the earliest years of our school. We also extend our deepest gratitude to Ray Bonis, Yuki Hibben and Cindy Jackson of VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives for their assistance and expertise in locating original texts and photos.
The 90th anniversary of VCU School of the Arts has allowed our community to reflect on our shared history and envision how we can continue to pave the way for creative practice in the 21st century and beyond. Our legacy has made us who we are today—one of the top-ranked arts and design schools in the nation. But our past also reinforces how we value and celebrate diverse perspectives, life experiences, cultural backgrounds and social identities, and how we continue to embrace the arts as a catalyst for discovering new knowledge.
The future is bright for VCUarts. Stretching toward the horizon are ongoing initiatives led by groundbreaking research and innovation, life-changing collaborations between the arts and medicine, and the next generation of talented students who are transforming how we see each other and the world around us. The possibilities are endless.
Thank you for joining us in this celebration. We look forward to meeting the pioneers, innovators and masterful creators who will walk these halls over the next 90 years.