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The Vision Behind Cornish College of the Arts

Nellie Cornish founded her school nearly 100 years ago. Her philosophy of educating the artist through exposure to all the arts was progressive at the time, and continues to be innovative today.

The Cornish Revolution

The Cornish School, what we now know as Cornish College of the Arts, was the product of a revolution in education. At its center was Nellie Cornish herself. Everything the school would become was formed in her head years before the doors opened for the first classes. And when those doors opened, Nellie’s optimism, persuasiveness, fearlessness, intellectual curiosity and artistic vision drove the school to national recognition in little over a decade and a half.

Listen to a 1938 interview with Nellie Cornish by Dave Crockett, Cornish Radio Studios.




Experience a School Like No Other

When Nellie Cornish founded the Cornish School of Music in 1914, her goal was not to teach music alone. She dreamed of teaching music in relation to all other arts – to witness the creative give-and-take that occurs when one discipline is continuously exposed to another.

She soon added dance and visual arts to the school’s offerings, and these were followed by theater and design. Just a few short years after founding the school, Nellie Cornish had developed the blueprint for what would become today’s Cornish College of the Arts. An environment of creative synergy, in which the interaction of artistic disciplines pushes the work of the students in breathtaking new directions.

Faculty & Students

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, including Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Guy Anderson and William Cumming, taught at Cornish College. Martha Graham, an inventor of modern dance, also taught here. Merce Cunningham, the legendary contemporary dancer/choreographer, and broadcast pioneer Chet Huntley were Cornish students.  Revolutionary composer John Cage worked at Cornish, inventing the prepared piano here in 1938. In more recent years, the college has nurtured the talents of Heart’s Ann Wilson, Brendan Fraser and award-winning composer Wendell Yuponce.

Cornish has hosted elite members of the artistic community as artists-in-residence, including Meredith Monk (performance), Mark Morris (dance), Bill Frisell (music), Rinde Eckert (theater), Syvilla Fort (dance), Imogen Cunningham (photography), Lou Harrison (music). These acclaimed artists provide Cornish students with unique and invaluable educational experiences.

While Cornish’s mission is to “provide students aspiring to become practicing artists with an educational program of the highest quality,” its role is far broader. Cornish students, alumni and faculty are working artists - theater directors, visual artists, set and lighting designers, dancers and musicians - making art in and for our community. They are also innovative designers, business leaders, teachers, passionate and supportive audience members and torchbearers for the arts.

Cornish posesses the lowest faculty/student ratio for an institution of its kind in the country. This configuration allows for more individualized student attention, giving students the ability to thrive in their chosen artistic discipline.

The Future

As Cornish moves into its second century of creativity, it will continue to strengthen its partnership with local, regional, national and international communities. Cornish College of the Arts will continue as an institution grounded in excellence with the power and resources to sustain a position at the forefront of artistic expression and creative collaboration.