History of CFA

A Brief History of CFA

In the fall of 1954, Boston University formally established what was known then as the School of Fine and Applied Arts (SFAA). This merged the College of Music – still today the oldest degree-granting music school in the country – with the department of Applied Art from BU’s College of Practical Arts and Letters, and the Department of Theatre from the School of Public Relations and Communication (now the College of Communication).

Boston University’s College of Music was created in 1872 as a part of a graduate theology program. (Cheers to what we now know as the School of Music, which celebrates its 150 birthday this year!) In 1929 it experienced a revitalization as a part of the School of Education, refocusing on educating music teachers. By the time of the 1954 establishment of the unified College, the College of Music was located at 25 Blagden Street, behind the Boston Public Library, and the Department of Theatre was located next door. Just a few blocks away on Garrison Street was where the College of Practical Arts and Letters had been offering art classes since 1919. The units became known as “Divisions” within the collective.

The mid- to late-fifties saw Boston University’s acquisition of a significant amount of property along what has been the Commonwealth Avenue “auto mile,” west of BU’s flagship College of Liberal Arts and School of Theology, and in January 1958 the doors of the College’s new home at 855 Comm Ave opened. 

Across the state in Lenox, MA, but rooted in the vision and community of music at Boston University, then-Director of the School of Music Wilbur D. Fullbright (GRS’60) founded Boston University Tanglewood Institute in 1966, which has grown into one of today’s premier training programs for young musicians.

In 1974, another shift came to the College’s nomenclature when the School of Fine and Applied Arts became the School for the Arts (SFA) and what were previously “Divisions” became “Schools.” Those designations remained until 2001, when the institution was renamed “College of Fine Arts” (CFA), the name the College proudly holds today. 

From its earliest days, the College has nurtured and inspired many talented and hardworking artists from all fields and corners of the world. The CFA family of artists has since grown to include Boston University Art Galleries, with exhibition spaces in 855 and 808 Commonwealth Ave, and Wheelock Family Theatre. Remarkable faculty from the Schools of Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts remain devoted to the education and experience of their students, who commit astoundingly to their crafts and pave new paths. And CFA’s alumni family is filled with thousands of inspirational artists, creators, educators, and gamechangers. A testament to strengthening and enduring effects of collaboration, Boston University College of Fine Arts is a beacon for the arts, on Comm Ave, in Boston, and around the world. 

Our Artistic Home 

Like many buildings in Boston, the Boston University College of Fine Arts building at 855 Commonwealth Avenue has history. In 1919, this stretch of road was Boston’s original Auto Mile and this solid edifice now at the heart of the BU Arts District was the finest Buick dealership in the city. After CFA moved into the space, it became the backdrop for BU’s community of artists to learn, imagine, and investigate.

Today, there are still traces of the industrial glamour (we are especially fond of the mechanic gargoyles mounted high in the Stone Gallery and first floor Student Lounge), but now the sprawling showrooms house art galleries and studios, the expansive windows of the painting studios provide inspiring views of the Charles River, and the Beaux-Arts architecture complements hundreds of concerts, productions, and exhibitions by CFA students. In 2020, renovations included building-wide improvements designed to enhance accessibility for all, in addition to opening up the long-closed dramatic arched windows along the first floor, allowing passersby to peek inside BU Art Galleries’ Stone Gallery.

This is our artistic home, right at the heart of BU’s Charles River campus. The place with natural light, tough bones, and just the right amount of grit. Where artists can get their hands dirty. A place that encourages students to explore—and to discover the artists they will become.

Just across the bustling street from 855, you’ll find 808 Comm Ave. Home to the prestigious Opera Institute, 808 Gallery, and visual arts facilities including expansive Printmaking, Painting, and Graphic Design studios. CFA shares the space with other units of the University, including the Howard Thurman Center on the first floor.

Sharing an alley with 808 is the stunning Joan & Edgar Booth Theatre at 820 Commonwealth Ave. Booth Theatre and the adjoining College of Fine Arts Production Center provide CFA students with countless opportunities to experiment and innovate. The award-winning dramatic arts complex recently earned the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Certification for its resource-efficient and green features.