Ringling College of Art and Design is a private four-year accredited college located in Sarasota, Florida that was founded by Ludd M. Spivey as an art school in 1931 as a remote branch of Southern College, founded in Orlando in 1856.
The art school separated from Southern College and became an independent nonprofit institution in 1933 and has changed names several times. It qualified for full accreditation as a degree-granting institution by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools on December 11, 1979. Upon joining as a member, accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Art was granted in 1984. The campus includes the Longboat Key Center for the Arts.
The concept of founding the college originated from Dr. Ludd M. Spivey, then president of Southern College, which was founded in 1856 in Lakeland, Florida, and is now called Florida Southern College. Spivey sought financial support for this concept from the Sarasota circus magnate, John Ringling. At that time, Spivey learned that Ringling was not interested in giving to Southern College and he was more interested in establishing his own art school at the museum founded with his first wife, Mable. The museum was constructed on their estate in the form of an Italian villa to house a vast collection of seventeenth century sculpture and paintings collected on their travels and at auctions. Most importantly, Ringling nearly was bankrupt. If Ringling could have, he would have opened his own art school that was drawn on his original plans for the museum, but not built because of a lack of funds.
Ringling's first wife died in June 1929, a few months before the crash of the stock market. Ringling's health began to fail as well. A year later, in 1930, he married Emily Haag Buck in Jersey City, New Jersey, a wealthy woman who turned out to have little interest in Florida. This marriage ended in divorce shortly before the death of John Ringling in 1936. He died just before losing his museum and residence to bankruptcy. His will left his residential property, including his home and the museum, to the state, otherwise they would have been sold for debts along with his other holdings. In retrospect, failure to involve Ringling in founding the school became a stroke of luck for its survival: if Ringling had founded the art school as requested, it would have been subjected to the same fate. After a ten-year struggle, his nephew was able to keep that deteriorating estate parcel intact and retained by the state.
Repeatedly Spivey's plan to found an art school was discussed and, after much negotiation, it was agreed that Southern College would open its own art school in Sarasota as a branch. With much reluctance, Ringling agreed that it could be known as the School of Fine and Applied Art of the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum, lending his name and that of his former wife to the school, to associate the Florida Southern art school with the more famous name of the Ringlings and their museum.
In a portion of the Sarasota area that once had been the incorporated community of Bay Haven, the former Bay Haven Hotel and several adjacent store buildings close to its downtown and railway station became the location for the new art school. The buildings were renovated at the cost of $45,000. John Ringling was approached again and agreed to raise the money necessary to underwrite those renovation needs. The work was completed and on October 2, 1931, the School of Fine and Applied Art of the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum was opened with an official ceremony by Southern College. John Ringling was invited to speak at its opening.
Shortly thereafter John Ringling became more severely affected by losses on the stock market and plummeted more rapidly toward bankruptcy; he was removed from management of the family circus by its board of directors.
Within two years, on May 14, 1933, under the name of Ringling School of Art, a charter was obtained and the school became an independent, nonprofit institution, separating from Florida Southern College. Seventy-five students enrolled in the new school, which purported to “do more than develop artistic talent and to provide intellectual training: its purpose will include the fullest development of personality...in order to assist each student to a happy adjustment to the circumstances of the world in which he finds himself.” In the same year, the art school became a member of the Florida Association of Colleges and Universities and has remained an active member of that organization ever since.
In May 1935, written permission was received from John Ringling to build a new school on his property near the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Due to a lack of resources, however, a school never was built on the grounds. Ringling died in 1936 and the opportunity to use his property was never realized.
The school also was known as John and Mable Ringling Junior College and School of Art during these early years, functioning both as a junior college and as an art school.
The building chosen as the site of the new school was originally the two-star Bay Haven Hotel, which was new at the time. It was purchased and is now known as the Keating Center, which is used to house the college's administration and also serves as dormitory and classroom space.
The first class had only seventy-five students and there were thirteen faculty members. Each student paid $783 per year for tuition, board, room, fees, and books. Each student also attended chapel services everyday and written permission had to be received by the school's president or dean if a student wanted to leave the town.
Late in 1933 the school became a member of the Florida Association of Colleges and Universities.
Although not fully accredited, on April 17, 1937 the school awarded its first fine arts degree to Dora G. McCollister of Clarksburg, Ohio.
During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s the school matured, realizing a gradual development and consolidation. During World War II, enrollment declined to fifty or sixty students, mostly women. With the end of the war, the school welcomed veterans returning to school on the G.I. Bill. By 1949 enrollment reached 250.
On October 2, 1949, the first building to be constructed by the school was put into use. It was an addition serving as a twenty-room dormitory for forty men. The new dorms had east and west wings with a combination writing and study room in the center. Harold Fennyhough, known for his charcoal portraits taught at the school during the late 1940s.
By 1959 enrollment climbed to 450, approximately where it remained with minor fluctuations for decades. Expansion of the campus included purchase of the Brinkerhoff Motel and duplexes to the rear of the main building for use as dormitories.
In 1964 operation of the school shifted significantly, as all of the school's assets and the responsibility for its direction were turned over to a board of trustees.
During the 1970s, considerable property was added to the campus, increasing the area of school holdings from just under 10 acres (40,000 m2) to more than 24 acres (97,000 m2). In May 1971, an alumni association was formed.
In 1973, a new 3,200 square feet (300 m2), completely air-conditioned painting studio was completed that was later used for sculpture.
By 1977, the school had built and completely equipped a modern darkroom and laboratory for photography students. The pink look of the campus, prevalent for many years, disappeared when all of the buildings were painted a light yellow.
Failing infrastructure meant that in 1978 the building known as the Riverside Dormitory was condemned for use as a dormitory. Two years later, the main building was condemned subject to the installation of major renovations.
The board of the school adopted a statement in 1978 that assured the faculty appropriate freedom in teaching and research, a principle normally taken for granted in academia, but not granted at Ringling until this time. The school received full accreditation as a degree-granting institution by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools on December 11, 1979. The next step toward proper recognition by other professional art schools was to gain accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art, and membership in the association was granted in 1984. Throughout the 1970s, slow but steady progress was made toward full accreditation, obtained on December 11, 1979, when the school acquired the status of a degree-granting college by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS-COC).
Construction of a library-studio complex was completed in June 1980. Security concerns were raised as women students suffered attacks by night prowlers and pistol shots alarmed students.
In 1985, Arland "Chris" Christ-Janer, Ph.D., became the president of Ringling School and remained until 1996. In an article written by Mark Zaloudek that was published November 11, 2008, in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, it was stated that the school experienced unprecedented growth during his tenure. Frank Countryman, Ringling vice president, was quoted as saying that "The school just took off and it was fun, because he was willing to try anything that might have a positive outcome... Some things worked and some didn't, but he changed the institution forever in a positive way." Larry Thompson, the college's new president, was quoted as adding that "Christ-Janer, who came out of retirement to head the art school, drew upon his experience as president of four other colleges to broaden Ringling's three-year specialized program into an accredited, four-year institution. We are the most high-tech art and design college in the world because of his visionary leadership." In another article, former Herald-Tribune editor Waldo Proffitt stated that Christ-Janer "transformed Ringling from an above average two-year art and design school to a four-year degree-granting college, generally thought to be the finest art and design school in the country".
On April 14, 2007, the art school was renamed the Ringling College of Art and Design. The announcement was made by its new president, Larry R. Thompson, J.D., to more than 500 guests at "An Evening at the Avant-Garde: Anything Goes", a private, ticketed fund raising event on the campus to support the student scholarship fund.
As of 2010, the campus had expanded to 49 acres (200,000 m2) and 108 buildings and the student population had reached over 1,300 students attending from 46 states and 46 countries. As of 2013, U.S. News reported a tuition rate of $36,624, 1,364 enrolled students (39% male and 61% female), and a student-faculty ratio of 12:1.
In 2010, Ringling College of Art & Design trademarked the mission phrase Shattering the myth of the starving artist.™ 
In November 2014, the college announced plans to build an approximately 20,000 square foot Visual Arts Center with help from a $3,000,000 donation from Dr. Richard and Barbara Basch. Planned features of the Richard and Barbara Basch Visual Arts Center include workshops for glassblowing and cold working, as well as a ceramics studio.
The college offers accredited BFA degrees in the following disciplines:
Minors and concentrations are available in Business of Art & Design, Fine Arts, and Photography & Digital Imaging Other programs offered by the college include, College Preparatory Courses, Continuing Education Studies, Summer Art programs, Community Arts, and participation at other art centers.
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