A vision of founder Dr. Virginia Uldrick, the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts was established as a summer program in 1980 by Governor Richard Riley through Executive Order. The five-week residential summer honors program was designed to train and educate highly talented high school students in a visionary, non-traditional arts conservatory. The summer program was held on the campus of Furman University in Greenville, SC.
The success of the intensive arts summer program proved immensely valuable and important to the lives of South Carolina's artistically talented high school students. Extensive research further validated and supported the idea of year-round education with focus in the arts. The school's leadership presented a bill to the state legislature in 1995 and although it was tabled at this time, it was presented again and overwhelmingly approved in 1996. Governor Carroll Campbell appointed a Legislative Study Committee, chaired by Senator J. Verne Smith, who was tasked to determine whether the state could afford to build the school, identify talented students for attendance, and develop a plan to insure that the state's artistically talented students would have the opportunity to attend the school, regardless of background or socio-economic status.
Once the committee completed all tasks to move foward, a contest was held to determine which South Carolina community would best be able to support the school. Greenville was selected by a proposal, developed by a group of business leaders who shared their understanding and belief in the arts as it is related to education, cultural and economic development. Greenville County and the City of Greenville then jointly donated 8.5 acres of land in downtown Greenville for the campus to reside upon. This land was formerly the location of Furman University's men's campus.
The state then committed $12 million to the creation of the residential high school, which would need to be matched by supporters. Thus the Capital Campaign began. Co-chaired by Mary Rainey Belser and Minor Mickel Shaw, the campaign raised over $14.5 million, ensuring the state's $12 million and bringing the dream and vision of the residential high school closer to a reality. And so the search for architects, construction companies and most-importantly qualified arts and academic faculty began.
Dr. Uldrick was named the school's first president. She and the school's Board of Directors, appointed by Governor Campbell, began building the masterpiece that is now the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities. They engaged a team of state and national leaders and visionaries in education and the arts, chaired by the dean of the distinguished Yale University Music School Dr. Robert Blocker. Together with faculty, the team created the mission and pre-professional arts curricula based on a classical, master-apprentice training model in creative writing, dance, drama, music and visual arts.
The campus, named in honor of Virginia Uldrick and designed to emulate a Tuscan village, opened its public residential high school doors to an inaugural class of high school juniors from all over the state in the fall of 1999. The school is run much like a college and is modeled as a master-apprentice community with arts faculty who are all practicing artists, as well as educators in their areas of expertise. In addition to rigorous pre-professional arts training, students receive an intense and innovative academic education that fosters connections to the arts while meeting all the requirements necessary for a South Carolina high school diploma.