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A Brief History of the Arts at Florida State University

Published July 30, 2019
Written by Sarah Shotola and Anna Prentiss // Sources available here

Florida State University is home to several arts programs that rank among the finest in the world. The College of Fine Arts, College of Motion Picture Arts, and College of Music each offer a variety of highly competitive degree programs, drawing in a diverse group of exceptionally talented students from across the country and around the globe. Together, these three Colleges provide educational, professional, and cultural resources for the entire campus community, state, and even nation, thus distinguishing FSU as one of our nation’s most unique and comprehensive cultural centers.

Looking back to the foundation of Florida State University in the 1800’s, the arts have always been an important emphasis within all programs and degrees.

Art is considered a fundamental skill and practice to be built upon, sown upon and developed.

— FSU Bulletin 19XX


FSU Bulletin 1884

FSU Bulletin 1884

In 1851, the West Florida Seminary was established and began operating in 1857. Here, both men and women had the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of teaching in the areas of “Mechanic Arts, in Husbandry and Agricultural Chemistry, in the Fundamental Laws, and in what regards the right and duties of citizens.” (History of FSU) Tuition was set at .75 cents per month per pupil with room and board at $12.00 which included fuel and lights.

By February, 1883, Florida University was organized under a liberal Charter and two Colleges —the Literary and the Medical. Renamed Seminary West of the Suwannee River in 1886, art was introduced as a foundational course for most areas of study. (Row 6)

1929 Fountain & Building

1929 Fountain & Building

In 1897, the institution evolved into the first liberal arts college in the state. In 1901, it became Florida State College — a four-year institution organized in four departments: The College, the School for Teachers, the School of Music, and the College Academy. (row 7, FSU Bulletin 1901)

Even though art was not its own department before 1905, students could take classes in oil painting, watercolor, pencil drawing, crayon drawing or decorative arts. Students that did not have access to proper educational resources had to take drawing classes every term at the seminary to prepare for their collegiate work.

The time has come when the regular teacher must know how to draw in order to do the best teaching, and all students will be required to take instruction in drawing before graduating.

— FSU Bulletin, 1905

With the reorganization of Florida’s legislation system in 1905, Florida State College changed from a co-educational facility to an all female college. The men were relocated to the University of Gainesville. The women now attended the Florida Female College until it became its’ more recognizable name, “The Florida State College for Women,” in 1908. Within the next two decades, the institution became the third largest women’s college in the nation.  

Florida State College for Women

Florida State College for Women

Seeking the deeper meaning of education, the Board of Control felt that the State College for Women was created to be a source of warmth and light, of hopefulness and good cheer to the young women of Florida. Its highest mission was felt to be the infusion of the young women of the Commonwealth with such light and warmth that they should become lamps, trimmed and burning with perennial flame, radiating the spirit of helpfulness, usefulness and good will in every neighborhood of this State; to be a place where young women might come for intellectual light and spiritual quickening and warmth, a place where all noble ambitions should be awakened, where the best that is in human character should be brought to the light, and where love to God, love to humanity and love to country should be made a ruling passion. So it was provided that the college should offer a wide variety of courses both theoretical and practical, in domestic art, elementary agriculture, horticulture and pedagogy, music, art, and expression, in addition to the more standard courses of general literature, liberal arts, and sciences. The dormitories were converted into studios for music and art.

— Pg 5 Flastacowo 1910 (row 20 )

It wasn’t until many years later, in 1947, that the College witnessed yet another transformation. “Demand by returning World War II veterans had brought men back to the campus in 1946 with the establishment of the Tallahassee Branch of the University of Florida. On May 15, 1947, the Governor signed an act of the Legislature returning Florida State College for Women to co-educational status and naming it The Florida State University.” (row 45, Section 1: History and Mission of the University)


Art has been continually threaded throughout the entire fabric of Florida State University with a strong foundation dating back to 1851. Around 1905, art turned away from a foundational skill to specific areas of study. The liberal arts bloomed with new schools of Art (drawing and painting, art history, clay modeling, designing and carving), Industrial Arts (cooking, sewing, dress making, housekeeping, horticulture, industrial drawing) and Teaching (classical, literary, scientific studies, vocal music, freehand and industrial drawing, reading, physical culture). The origin of Theatre can be traced back to this time as well within the School of Expression.

Images courtesy of FSU Heritage & University Archives
Image courtesy of "FSU Voices" - 1909 Seal

Image courtesy of “FSU Voices” – 1909 Seal

In 1909, art student Agnes Granberry designed the new seal consisting of the familiar 3 torches with the words: Vires. Artes. Mores. (Strength. Skill. Customs.). This signified the mission of the college to educate students physically, mentally, and morally: to create Femina Perfecta, the Completed Woman. (row)

Dance found its beginnings in the Department of Physical Education in 1929 with classes in folk dancing, English country, clog dancing and interpretive dance. Nellie-Bond Dickinson established the dance program, moving it away from physical education and athleticism, towards modern choreography and expression.

1950s Interior Design

1950s Interior Design

As the Florida State College for Women grew to the third largest women’s college in the nation, more art classes were developed. Around this same time, the country was engulfed in World War II. Women’s roles in the home changed, thus making art more centered around the home and the hearth. As a result, new departments formed in Art Education, Constructive Design, and Industrial Arts. Studies in woodworking, blackboard drawing, constructive design, basketry, pottery, crafts, handloom weaving, metal work, modeling, bookbinding, pattern dying, jewelry, constructive design, and leathering were now offered.

Even though housing and home furnishing classes were first offered at Florida State College for Women in the early 1920s, emphasis over the next ten years was on family housing needs and art as it applied to the home.  In the 1940s, courses in home planning and advanced home furnishings were added and, in 1950, a major in Housing and Home Furnishings was initiated.

In 1947, the Florida State College for Women became the Florida State University. For the first time since 1905, men were welcomed back to the school.

During the 1950s, dance and theatre continued to collaborate and the Department of Art switched its focus from trade to expression. Theatre broke off from speech in 1957 and became its own school under the direction of Richard G. Fallon.

“The Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training was initiated by the School of Theatre in 1968 and moved to Sarasota five years later to establish a permanent relationship with the Asolo Repertory Theatre. It is currently housed in the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts, which is a multi-theater complex, located on The Ringling property which is managed by Florida State University.” (Wikipedia)

The University continued to change rapidly in the 1960s. As plans for the new Fine Arts Building were developing, it was not immediately clear who would occupy the facility. In 1971, construction was completed and Department of Art and School of Theatre moved in.

“Originally the departments of art and speech were to be moved into the new building, but it soon became clear that both would not fit. So, Dr. Robert Lawton, then Dean of Arts and Sciences, decided to separate theatre from the speech department.” Richard Fallon

Gallery space was incorporated into the Fine Arts Building. This created a needed space for students and visiting artists to curate and exhibit their work on campus. Florida State University has had a long history of museum operations. The Fine Arts Gallery, now the Museum of Fine Arts, was established in 1971, and is currently home to important artworks by historical and contemporary artists with recent gifts of such notable artists as Judy Chicago, Trevor Bell, and Andy Warhol. Visitor attendance has exceeded 58,000 in recent years.

The Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala, originally built to display and preserve the collection of Arthur I. Appleton, was affiliated with FSU from 1990 until 2004. Additionally, FSU undertook administration of The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota in 2001. “FSU administered the Ca’d’Zan, the former Ringling home, and used it for education – from the elementary schools through university levels.”

In 1953 the academic major known as “Housing and Home Furnishings” was changed to Housing and Interior Design within the College of Home Economics. This title was in effect until 1973 when the newly named Department of Interior Design moved into the School of Visual Arts. Nationally, a movement to accredit interior design programs was gaining momentum and FSU’s Interior Design program received FIDER accreditation in 1979.

In 1974, the dance program separated into its own department under the direction of Nancy Fichter. “The big dream was to build a place where serious dance could happen, a truly professional program that would send young dancers out into the world of concert dance and where the new dance could be made.” (FSU Voices) 

1950s Art History

1950s Art History

In 1973, the School of Visual Arts was formed under President Bernard F. Sliger from existing components in Arts and Sciences, Education, and elsewhere. Dean Emeritus Dr. Jerry L. Draper (BA, Art History, Yale University; PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Professor Emeritus, Art History, Florida State University) was founding Dean, serving from 1973-2002. 

[The school] functions to enrich the lives of students and to provide them with the means of self-expression in an increasingly complex and impersonal technological society. The study and practice of art are both viewed as a necessary link in the educational system, both as a learning process and as a means of personal fulfillment.

— Pg 386

Subsequently, the Department of Dance faculty voted to join the School of Visual Arts and the name was changed somewhat later in 1989 to The School of Visual Arts & Dance. In 2008 under Dean Sally McRorie, the School became the College of Visual Arts, Theatre & Dance, remaining so until 2015 when Dean Peter Weishar and departmental faculty celebrated the change to the College of Fine Arts.

In 2015, the College of Fine Arts was established and offers degree programs in Art, Art Education, Art History, Dance, Interior Architecture and Design, and Theatre. The College also houses several non-academic units including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Facility for Arts Research and the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC).

Many of our programs rank among the most respected in the nation. We are proud to feature specialized programs that leverage relationships between departments and museums to enrich the degree-based curriculum.


The Florida State University College of Music is proud of a long tradition of excellence. For more than eighty years, FSU has offered a high level of professional education in music; it was one of the originators of the doctoral degree in music performance; and for over thirty years it has been one of the most comprehensive and most respected music schools in the nation.

In 1901, the College of Music instruction began with only one teacher of vocal and instrumental music. By 1911, the teaching staff had grown to six faculty members. That same year, Ella Scoble Opperman, for whom Opperman Music Hall is named, became the director of the school, and the first bachelor of music was awarded by vote of the faculty. By 1920, Professor Opperman had become the dean of the School and served in that capacity until her retirement in 1944.

“In 1949, Florida State University’s marching band officially adopted the name Marching Chiefs and made its first appearance under that name at the FSU football game against Stetson University on October 29, 1949. The band was so highly regarded that when the team was invited to play in the 1955 Sun Bowl game, a reporter suggested that the Marching Chiefs were responsible for sealing the deal” (Woodward, Eddie,  Florida State University, Pg 94).

By the 1950s, the School of Music was extremely developed with music education classes, music theory, and literature, etc. Most recently, the College of Music proudly celebrated its centennial during the 2010-2011 school-year with the re-opening of the completely renovated Ruby Diamond Concert Hall.

“Since 1911, the music library’s collection has grown steadily. By 1935, the National Association for Schools of Music listed the FSCW School of Music as one of thirteen schools with outstanding music library holdings. The FSCW became co-ed and was renamed the Florida State University in 1947. During the summer of 1949, the music library, which included five small listening rooms, moved into to the new, air-conditioned building, now known as the Kuersteiner Music Building.” (taken from https://music.fsu.edu/library/about)


The Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts

Motion Picture Arts at Florida State began in the early 1950’s but rather than focusing on feature films as the program does today, there was an emphasis on televised programming.

In 1969 the department developed a four-year program that lead to a specialization in television. Teaching students and adequately preparing them for one or more of the subject fields, this program also provided specific preparation for educational radio-television.

It was not until 1989 that the Florida State Legislature founded a flagship program in Tallahassee designed to prepare filmmakers for successful careers in the entertainment industry, renaming the program appropriately to the Film School.  

Decades later, the presence of the Florida State University Film School can be seen throughout the industry, producing award-winning alumni and acknowledged as “one of the world’s best” by The Hollywood Reporter.

(https://film.fsu.edu/about/)


The Arts has been an integral part of Florida State University since its beginnings as West Florida Seminary. From its start at the University in the form of drawing classes, to the renovation of the Ruby Diamond Concert Hall, arts at Florida State University have gone a long way. Although three separate entities, the College of Fine Arts, College of Music, and College of Motion Picture Arts all contribute to the amazing environment of arts at Florida State University. Each college has its own unique pathway for developing its students into well-rounded, educated, and engaged artists of their individual craft. These three colleges help support and represent the valuable experience that only an education in the arts at Florida State University can provide. With such a strong foundation in the arts, it’s no wonder Florida State University has educated some of the finest graduates in various programs in the College of Fine Arts, College of Music, and the College of Motion Picture Arts.