The 10 Best Art Schools in North Carolina

Anyone who has ever called North Carolina “home” will be the first to tell anyone that this land has a culture all its own. 

With a unique blend of large, bustling cities and jaw-dropping landscapes, North Carolina perfectly balances the best parts of living, offering up something of value for everyone! 

This is also what makes the possibility of attending any of the renowned art schools in North Carolina so profoundly appealing.

By enrolling in any of the top North Carolina art programs, students are doing more than just investing in education; they are engaging in one of the nation’s most historic, beautiful states. 

From the foothills of the mountains to the rushing waterfalls that fill this stunning corner of our nation, North Carolina offers up the best parts of the natural world. 

Students in search of inspiration are guaranteed to find it within just an easy drive of any of the nationally recognized art programs in this state. 

Filled with hip, lively “college towns,” North Carolina draws a constant flow of students from all over the world. 

By enrolling, these diverse class bodies bring forth new ideas, changing perspectives, and brand-new experiences.

What better environment for a flourishing young artist? 

To learn more, read on! These schools are ranked according to each program’s placement in the ranking of best art colleges.

10. East Carolina University School of Art & Design (Greenville, NC)

East Carolina University
Ecu2020, Joyner-Library-Clock-Tower, CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the most popular public universities in North Carolina, the East Carolina University School of Art and Design takes pride in embracing the power of diversity to enrich both art and the human experience.

The best way to take this valuable step is through the education of young minds all across the state and beyond. 

What better way to do so than by engaging the artists on campus in valuable outreach programs?

Regular community programs are this university’s chosen method to combine the power of art and volunteer work, deepening each student’s relationship with their work through practical steps.

Recent programs in the Jenkins Fine Art Center– such as the recent Scott Avett exhibition, titled Stories about the Education of an Artist– raise funds that go directly back into the student body, empowering future young artists through scholarships and making education more accessible for the next generation. 

Through its plethora of readily available teaching resources, the East Carolina University School of Art and Design assists in classrooms from the ground level up, training young minds from youth to become the most creative possible artists. 

By opening the doors to diversity early, this university expands the opportunity to learn even beyond the walls of tuition.

9. Barton College (Wilson, NC)

Though built on a foundation of Christian principles, Barton College opens its doors to students of all walks of faith. 

These open-minded principles shine through in their ranking– among the top twenty universities in the South– and in the success of their flourishing arts program!

From theater to painting, Barton College embraces all forms of cultural arts in order to provide students with the most inclusive learning experience possible. 

After gazing through the stunning paintings available in any of the Barton art galleries, students can study on a smaller scale at the William Hackney Library. 

A weekend trip to the interactive Imagination Station museum just outside the campus grounds is a great way to relax, engage with new subjects, and find new inspiration to bring back to their own work, proving the value of an all-encompassing education. 

No matter how a student hopes to gain inspiration and pursue their art, Barton College is here to spur innovation and help them reach their goal! 

8. Appalachian State University (Boone, NC)

Appalachian State University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Any potential art student hoping to draw inspiration from the beauty of the natural world around them is destined to feel right at home at Appalachian State University.

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian State University is surrounded by the kinds of views that have inspired some of America’s greatest impressionistic art. 

Spanning across a total 500 acres, this campus is widely considered one of the most gorgeous locations in the nation, and that inspiration shows through in their thriving art program

This inspiration shines through in their engaging educational programs, including participation in the most recent Buskers Fest and the successful wine label design challenge.

Collaboration is an essential element of education at Appalachian State University. 

As a regular step in art review, students hang their work in HOW Space, opening the door for the positive critique that helps shape students future artistic endeavors.

By graduation, Appalachian State University hands every student the tools they need to find a practical purpose for their education, whether that be art education, art therapy, or design. 

By helping students find an outlet for their creativity, this university guides students on the path to discovery and places them firmly on the road to a fulfilling career. 

7. University of North Carolina, Asheville (Asheville, NC)

To gauge the success of the University of North Carolina Asheville campus, one need only look at where its flourishing alumni have gone.

To date, graduates of this arts program have gone on to find national fame in their field, most recently including alumni Iris Gottlieb

Their first illustrated collection, Seeing Gender: an Illustrated Guide to Identity and Expression, serves as a perfect example of how art can change the world. 

Though this compelling book contains written elements inspired by Gottlieb’s own identity, the illustrations from this professional artist have set it apart as a bestseller. 

In a review by the School Library Journal, Heather Waddell stated: “Each bright spread can stand alone, making this the perfect book to flip through at leisure.”  

Prior to this, the illustrator’s art found a home in Smithsonian Magazine, Sephora, Ford, and Google, among other companies willing to prove the value of art in advertisement and inspiration alike. 

From start to finish, a rigorous arts education at this university guides students from their first day to the completion of their dreams!

6. Western Carolina University School of Art & Design (Cullowhee, NC)

Whether a student hopes to minor in art or achieve their full MFA, the Western Carolina University School of Art and Design has the tools they need to succeed.

It’s no lie that an education in the arts can be expensive. In addition to the typical university expenses– tuition, books, and housing– art students are responsible for buying the materials with which they will work. 

Luckily, the Western Carolina University School of Art and Design makes learning accessible. 

In addition to general grants and financial aid, this department provides a series of art-specific scholarships, easing the financial burden and taking steps towards knowing that any student can feel the freedom to follow their dreams. 

Through a robust visiting artist program that dates back to the early 1980s, the Western Carolina University School of Art and Design has empowered young artists through free talks, exhibits, and lessons, allowing them to gain invaluable new perspectives to put into practice with their own work.  

5. UNC Greensboro School of Art (Greensboro, NC) 

From the minute that a student enrolls in the University of North Carolina Greensboro School of Art, they are immersed into a world in which the arts are celebrated as they deserve.

On campus, students are pushed to their furthest limits and nurtured into creative shape by a team of professors dedicated to helping them reach their vision.

A constant circulation of galleries and performances ensures that even the most creatively frustrated student has what they need to exit that slump and find their inspiration.

Off-campus, the thriving Greensboro art scene is guaranteed to help students from all over the country feel right at home. 

The Greensboro Arts Hub is dedicated to keeping artists throughout the community informed, engaged, and excited about new opportunities in the form of both events and grants. 

Through this endlessly supportive environment, students can find funding, seek out innovative ideas, and join a community of like-minded individuals. 

4. Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC)

Wake Forest University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

After enrolling at Wake Forest University, students are guaranteed more than just a rigorous education in the arts. They are welcomed into one of the best college towns in America

While not enjoying the sights, studying at the local museums, or hiking on nearby trails, students at Wake Forest are privy to one of the most innovative educations in the nation. 

An art degree at Wake Forest includes the possibility of hands-on experience through internship opportunities and design practicum. 

Famously, the Diggs Gallery has made worldwide news after being recognized as one best regional collections of African art. 

By utilizing valuable connections at the nearby Reynolda House Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum, faculty work hard to ensure that students have the networking skills they need to advance their careers beyond the campus. 

3. UNC-Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)

UNC Chapel Hill
Jack a lanier, UNC Chapel Hill – Old Well with flowers, CC BY-SA 4.0

As one of the top universities in the nation, The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus has a major draw, pulling some of the top minds from all over the country. What better way to ensure a thriving arts program?

Utilizing every bit of its national recognition, this university provides a near-constant rotation of visiting artists and stunning galleries, such as the recent BASEMENT X Peel group exhibition featuring faculty and alumni alike. 

All year round, students have the opportunity to learn from some of the most creative minds in the country as they use their art to address social issues and inspire change.

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus views art in a purposeful lens, helping students treat their own work as a laboratory of “experimentation, examination, analysis, and engagement.” 

With this manner of respectful approach, it’s no wonder that so many alumni have recently shot into success, including Southern Prize finalist Elizabeth Cornejo and Chateaubriand Fellow Weizin Xhou

2. Davidson College (Davidson, NC)

Davidson College
Dacoslett, Chambers Building, Davidson College (Davidson, North Carolina), marked as public domain

At Davidson College, art is more than just recognized; it is celebrated.

Though this college embraces tradition through the use of typical galleries and exhibits, it strives to bring artistic visions to life in an entirely new way. 

By hosting art festivals such as the Gather, Learn, and Graze event, Davidson College allows students to show the world their art through live entertainment and fun.

This spirit of joy infects the entire campus, helping art become more than just a feature of college life. 

Davidson College openly views artistic courses as a major part of the liberal arts college experience and does everything possible to support young artists both in and out of the stereotypical classroom. 

Seeing as how this university has regularly achieved high rankings as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation, their open-armed approach clearly works!

1. Duke University (Durham, NC)

Earning a first place at the top of this competitive list is the arts program available at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. 

While housed on this campus, students have the opportunity to do more than simply study their art; they can put it to use, explore the world around them and gain the diverse experiences they need to build their personal portfolios.

Through a thriving study abroad program and community based learning experiences, Duke supports each young artist’s drive to learn more about the world around them. 

Only by truly immersing themselves in these possibilities can students take advantage of the world-class studio spaces available on campus.

Through the Art, Art History, and Visual Studies Antiracism Program, Duke University teaches art students to put their creativity to work where it counts most. 

Here, visiting speakers and exhibitions provide both inspiration and valuable lessons in culture, showing the impact of a well-rounded education in a totally new way. 

Whether a student is hoping to learn more about painting, art history, photography, or design, there is little place better for this exploration than the campuses in North Carolina!