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The brainchild of former N.C. Gov. Terry Sanford and author John Ehle, the North Carolina School of the Arts was established by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963. The Enabling Act directed the primary purpose of the School to be "the professional training, as distinguished from the liberal arts instruction, of talented students in the fields of music, drama, the dance and allied performing arts, at both the high school and college levels of instruction, with emphasis placed upon performance of the arts, and not upon academic studies of the arts."
A cluster of conservatories, the School is a complex institution with a single, bold mission: to train talented young people for professional careers in dance, music, drama, filmmaking, and theatrical design and production. State funds were appropriated to begin a performing arts school and an Advisory Board of Artists was established to recommend to the governor a site for the School. In preliminary reports, the board recommended that "the host city should obligate itself to support the school." In return, "the school must serve the city as an arts center." The citizens of Winston-Salem, home of the first municipal arts council in the nation, vied for the school with particular zeal. In a two-day telephone campaign, volunteers raised nearly a million dollars in private funds to renovate the old Gray High School building - the city's contribution to the effort.
Composer Vittorio Giannini of The Juilliard School served as the School of the Arts' first president. It was his vision that shaped the School in the beginning and continues to make the School unique among its peers: utilizing a resident faculty of professional artists; beginning training at the age that talent first becomes evident; having a true community of artists, living together in a conservatory environment; and emphasizing learning by doing, with performance as an integral part of instruction. Today the School of the Arts has nearly reached its maximum enrollment, which will maintain an optimal student-faculty ratio. More than 1,100 students from 42 states and 17 foreign countries are enrolled, studying with a distinguished faculty of more than 130 full-time teachers. While its well-known graduates have won critical and public acclaim in concert halls, in films and on stages around the world, others have contributed to the quality of life in Winston-Salem and in large cities and small communities throughout North Carolina, the Southeast and the nation. International programs in music and dance have continued to provide unique performance experience for students.
Excerpted from the North Carolina School of the Arts Web site