The Cornish College of the Arts, a four-year institution, is one of only three private, nonprofit performing and visual arts colleges in the nation. It is a small college with 650 students in degree programs and another 150 in preparatory classes. Cornish College possesses the lowest faculty/student ratio for an institution of its kind in the country, which allows for more individualized attention.
Nellie Cornish founded the school in Seattle, Washington, in 1914. For nearly 90 years, Cornish College of the Arts has educated students and nurtured artists who have consistently contributed to American culture. Beginning with music, the school quickly developed into an internationally known gathering place of renowned artists, educators, and students. Dance and art were added to the curriculum, followed by theater, design, and performance production.
A.H. Albertson designed the building in the Spanish Baroque style, an oddly popular theme for a region so distant from Moorish and Latin influences. Not so odd, however, in light of the fact that nearly all travelers arrived by ship from the former Spanish colony of California, and brought with them skills and ideas from there.
The Cornish building was given specialized treatment by Seattle sculptor Alonzo Lewis. The dogwood blossoms that he carefully molded reflect the Arts and Crafts movement of the era, a counterpoint to industrialization and mass-manufactured aesthetics. At the same time, those details give a sense of what the highly individual spirit was for the new school.
The school pioneered ideas in the arts and art education, in a location considered to be frontier land by the remainder of the world. The curriculum was conceived to be personal and intimate, while still meeting what young artists need in craft and practice. It was, and still is, a true center for new art, perched on what has been called "the farthest reach."
In 1977, the college, then called The Cornish Institute, became fully accredited, offering the bachelor of fine arts and bachelor of music degrees. In 1986, the college was named Cornish College of the Arts.
Since the early days, the college has fostered influential artists, arts movements, and arts organizations in the local community and beyond. Prominent members of the Northwest School of Artists have taught at Cornish College. Merce Cunningham and Chet Huntley were Cornish students. Revolutionary composer John Cage worked at Cornish. In more recent years, the college has nurtured the talents of Ann Wilson, Brendan Fraser, and award-winning composer Wendell Yuponce.
Cornish also has hosted elite members of the artistic community as artists-in-residence, including Meredith Monk, Mark Morris, and many more. Those acclaimed artists provide Cornish College students with unique and invaluable educational experiences.