UNC School of the Arts

Written By Peter Cotell

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) is an arts school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Its courses include dance, design and production, drama, filmmaking, and music. The school was established in 1963 when Governor Terry Sanford and writer John Erle worked together to create the first public arts conservatory in the United States. The citizens of Winston-Salem raised over a million dollars in two days during a telephone fundraising campaign to build the school in the city.  

The school offers diplomas at the high school, bachelor’s, and master’s levels. Thus it is one of two schools in the UNC System that include high school students (the other is the UNC School for Science and Math). High school students have the opportunity to live on campus and study multiple programs. Students who graduate from the secondary program also receive tuition assistance for all schools in the UNC System.  

UNCSA’s first chancellor was Vittorio Gianni, famed for his work at the Juilliard School in New York City. Applicants to the school are selected by either an audition for music, drama, and dance or by submitting a portfolio of their work for design and filmmaking. The school operates a theater in downtown Winston-Salem called the Stevens Center, where operas, ballets, and plays are performed.  

As of fall 2022, UNCSA had an undergraduate enrollment of 938 and 275 students in grades 9–12. The school does not field any athletics programs; however, it does have an official team name, the Fighting Pickles. Notable alumni include actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, comedian Danny McBride, and film director David Gordon Green. 

In 2024 the school settled a suit brought by 65 former students who alleged sexual abuse by instructors at the school. Under the settlement, the school paid $2.5 million and the University of North Carolina System paid $10 million.