What we now know as Watkins College of Art, Design & Film has roots in the generosity and vision of one man. Samuel Watkins, a self-made entrepreneur and philanthropist, orphaned at the age of 4, who lacked any formal education. In his will he left $100,000 and property in the center of Nashville for the establishment of a school that would teach those in need the “business of life”.
Watkins Institute began operations in 1885 and immediately became the center for arts in Nashville. One month after the doors were opened, the school, under the auspices of the Nashville Art Association, held the city’s first comprehensive art exhibition and soon after began an art school. Instruction in the visual arts has continued without interruption ever since.
As Nashville’s needs changed, so did the school. Over the first 100 years of operation, it has assisted, trained and schooled nearly 350,000 men, women and children. Art has always been a major focus but Watkins Institute’s goal was to meet the ever-changing needs of the populace. The school has help immigrants with assimilation during the beginnings of the 20th Century, helped prepare women for the workplace in the 30’s and 40’s, and offered servicemen returning from World War II the opportunity to complete their high school degrees.
The transition to a full college began in 1977 when the State of Tennessee’s Higher Education Commission (THEC) approved Watkins Institute to offer associate degrees in fine art and in interior design. In the mid-1990’s the Watkins Film School was established. In 1997 and 1998, THEC approved bachelor of fine arts degrees in film and interior design. Bachelor of fine arts degrees in photography, graphic design and fine art followed and in 2007 a bachelor of arts in art was added.
Now, in its 128th year of continuous education service, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film, as the institution is now known, operates as a independent, non-profit four-year, nationally accredited college of the visual arts, proud of the accomplishments of both our award-winning faculty and students who continue to explore the ever changing meaning of art and the artist in the 21st century.