History of the Arts at KU



In 1867 the University was composed of six faculty members including one music professor. Beginning in 1869 the first studio art class was taught. The Department of Music was established in 1884, the Department of Art (painting and art education) in 1885, and the combined School of Music and Art formed in 1885 and renamed the School of Fine Arts in 1894. By 1915, courses in the Department of Art included Drawing & Painting, Design, and Pottery. The Department of Design began in 1921 with courses in Poster Design, Textiles, Metalwork, Bookbinding, Ceramics, and Weaving. The B.F.A. degree program began in 1929 with programs in Design, Public School Art, and Drawing & Painting and required 120 credit hours. Industrial Design was added in 1941, Interior Design in 1946, Jewelry & Silversmithing, Art History, and the M.F.A. program in 1948. Until 1962 Art History and the University’s art collection were located administratively in the School of Fine Arts. The History of Art Department has been housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since 1962.

The Kress Department of Art History is located within the building of the Spencer Museum of Art, west of the Kansas Memorial Union. The collection of the art museum was first housed in Spooner Hall, the first library. In 1926 the art collection was named the Spooner-Thayer Museum of Art, housing collections that were a 1917 gift of Sallie Casey Thayer in memory of her late husband, Kansas City department-store magnate William B. Thayer of Emery, Bird, Thayer Dry Goods Company. These collections included ceramics, glassware, textiles and Asian paintings. In 1978, the artwork was moved to the new Spencer Museum of Art building.

Reorganization of the Arts and Design in 2009

The Arts and Design areas of study were reorganized in 2009 after months of investigation and consideration by the Provost’s office. As a result, the five professional design programs (Environmental Design, Industrial Design, Illustration & Animation, Photo Media, and Visual Communication Design) became the Department of Design and relocated to the School of Architecture, Design and Planning. The reorganization resulted in the creation of two new schools: the School of Music and the School of the Arts. The School of the Arts, housed within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is made up of the Departments of Visual Art, Theatre, Dance, and Film and Media Studies.

The Department of Visual Art includes Visual Art Education, Ceramics, Metalsmithing/Jewelry, Textiles/Fibers, Drawing/Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, and Expanded Media.


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