Mission and History

Mission Statement

The Chicago Academy for the Arts transforms emerging artists through a curriculum and culture which connect intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity to impart skills to lead and collaborate across diverse communities.


In 1980, Larry Jordan, a teacher in the Chicago Public School system, was distressed to witness the number of art and music classes being eliminated from the curricula in the school system.

Chicago Academy for the Arts ribbon-cutting in 1981.

Chicago Academy for the Arts ribbon-cutting in 1981.

Mr. Jordan, who arrived in Chicago from North Carolina, was accustomed to the many arts programs and particularly the schools that specialized in these programs. Chicago was simply one city in the nation witnessing the decline of arts programs across the United States. A revolution in taxes paid for schools demanded that the schools emphasize the basics and cut out the “frills” of art and music. Mr. Jordan wondered why the Chicago school system could not afford to have at least one high school which could specialize in the arts. He wrote a special proposal and presented it to the school board. The board was unanimous in their acceptance of the proposal, but turned down the request on the basis that the finances for such an enterprise were not available.

Undeterred, Mr. Jordan was driven by the idea that the arts are not an accessory to education, but informed the foundation of all learning. He was inspired by close friends to pursue the creation of an arts high school as an independent school. He believed that with enough support of arts patrons and corporate assistance, such a school could provide a free education to those students who wished to develop their interests in the arts.

A number of friends and colleagues assisted him in developing a Board of Directors who could help further the cause. Essee Kupcinet, television producer and wife of famous Chicago columnist, Irv Kupcinet, was instrumental in bringing name recognition to Jordan’s group of supporters and a Board of Governors was created. The initial board met over coffee at the dining room table of Chicago’s famous artist, the late Zelda Werner. These excited and anxious board members created a strategy for opening the school in September of 1981. The initial board members reflected a wide array of personalities in business, arts, public relations and education.

The board’s first mission was to find a location for the school that could be accessible to students across the Chicago area. Old St. Patrick’s Church on DesPlaines Avenue, in the near downtown area, had a school building on its property that had been vacated some years before. The school building was in a safe, but declining neighborhood. Members of the board convinced the pastor of the church to rent the school building and to help revive the community. He agreed and the school opened its doors to 59 brand new artistically talented young girls and boys.

Summertime auditions brought hundreds of hopefuls to the old school building. While the Board of Directors made every effort to provide free education, the realization that faculty salary, rent and administrative costs made that dream virtually impossible. The cost for a full year’s tuition was established at $2000 per year. All the monies that were generated by the board for the school opening went to subsidize tuition for those talented youngsters who simply could not afford that cost. Fundraising to support scholarships remains, even today, one of the most fundamental functions of the school.

On that day in September 1981, the sign on the school door, and on its official stationery, read THE ACADEMY, ART, MUSIC, DANCE, THEATER. Mr. Larry Jordan was named the school’s first Headmaster and Mr. Frank Mustari its first Principal. The faculty represented teachers in art, music, theater, dance and the academic fields of social studies, mathematics, foreign language, English and science.

In the fall of 1990, the school moved to its present location on Chicago Avenue, again in a former parish school. The larger facilities provided for expanded programs with the addition of communication arts to the curriculum. The name of the school was changed to emphasize its attachment to the cultural benefits of the city of Chicago. The name of the school then became THE CHICAGO ACADEMY FOR THE ARTS.

Urinetown  from Fall 2015

Urinetown from Fall 2015

In 2012, The Academy celebrated its 30th anniversary with a series of events, culminating in a gala event at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance at the Millennium Park Terrace. During this year, the school revised its mission statement to more clearly reflect the further development of its educational philosophy which integrates academics, arts, and the environment to educate the intellectual artist. The new mission statement reads:

The Chicago Academy for the Arts transforms emerging artists through a curriculum and culture which connect intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity to impart skills to lead and collaborate across diverse communities.

Today, The Academy maintains its position as an internationally recognized independent school. The Academy is proud to sit at the intersection of arts and academics in the City of Chicago and the nation. We remain dedicated to our work to train young artists for life and to contribute to the artistic and creative life of our community.