The Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts is a four-week residency summer program for high school students gifted in music, visual art, theatre, dance, and filmmaking, Governor Lamar Alexander founded the School for the Arts in 1984, assembling a team of professionals to develop a program for Tennessee that would rival the best summer arts schools in the nation.
In the summer of 1985, Middle Tennessee State University hosted the first Governor’s School for the Arts with 90 orchestral students. The following year, the program was expanded to include wind ensemble, vocal music, theatre, and visual arts. By 1986 the School for the Arts auditioned over 1200 students from across the state for one of the coveted 300+ scholarships to the program. In 1987, dance was added to the curriculum and in 2009 filmmaking became the program’s latest area of study. In 2005, Governor Phil Bredesen mandated that all Governor’s Schools award college credit to participating students.
Since 1985 over 7,000 of Tennessee’s gifted and talented students have been afforded the opportunity to attend the School for the Arts. Each January more than 1400 compete for the 230 available scholarships. The students selected for the School for the Arts show true talent and motivation. Coming from every geographical region of Tennessee, these students have shown why they were chosen to participate. Selections for music, art, theatre, dance, and filmmaking are made as a result of auditions or submissions of portfolios and interviews.
The faculty consists of outstanding visual and performing artists and educators from across the nation. Many of the faculty members hold terminal degrees from the most demanding schools in the world, such as Yale, Julliard, Eastman, and even the Moscow Conservatory. The highly acclaimed professional artists that instruct our students include dancers, actors, and vocalists from New York to Los Angeles and around the world. Several of these artists are also School for the Arts alumni. Hand-picked by the chairs of each discipline, most faculty members reside on campus during the four weeks of the program, developing lifelong mentoring relationships with our students. One student even accepted the offer to study violin with a faculty member from Germany and worked as an au pair for her children.
The Tennessee Governor’s School for the arts strives to provide a rounded educational experience for our students. In addition to the core studies for each area of concentration, each participant is exposed to other art disciplines through guest lectures, exhibits, concerts, and films during required evening programs seven days a week. The School believes that these programs serve to nurture the skills that students already have while encouraging new ideas, expanding students’ perceptions, and enhancing critical thinking about the ways that art relates to life. Through these practices, the School for the Arts is able to cultivate a student’s individual talent, boosting them to the forefront of their disciplines as they prepare to venture forth into today’s competitive arts community.
The success of the Governor’s School for the Arts program could be measured by the number of students who have been accepted at the most prestigious universities and conservatories in the nation, such as Julliard School of Music and Dance, Eastman School of Music, Cooper Union, Cleveland Institute, Peabody Conservatory, Cincinnati Conservatory, North Carolina School for the Arts, and New York University Tisch School of Arts.
Many former students now hold jobs in orchestras of international repute, such as the Orchestra Symphonique de Montreal, or work as supporting musicians for companies such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
The same holds true for former dance and theatre students who now work as designers, technicians, actors, and dancers on and off Broadway and in national and international television and film projects.
Former visual art students’ work can be seen in galleries around the country and one former student’s graphic artistry is readily visible as the designer of the “Google” logo. The filmmaking program has already yielded several students and their films acceptance into the Nashville Film Festival.
With the numerous students who have become professional artists and performers, perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the school is the vast number of alumni who are now teachers in the arts, many returning to their own communities. Each year we have several new faculty members who are alumni of the school and many who return to perform or do workshops or master-classes with the students.