California College of the Arts was founded in 1907 by Frederick Meyer to provide an education for artists and designers that would integrate both theory and practice in the arts. Meyer’s vision continues to the present day.

President Stephen Beal says, “CCA’s history is tied to the Arts and Crafts movement, a time when artists and designers were producing work that would address the social issues of the time and have a positive impact on the world. This spirit is still very much a part of the college today.”

Frederick Meyer & the Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts movement originated in Europe during the late 19th century in response to the industrial aesthetics of the machine age. Frederick Meyer was a cabinetmaker in his native Germany, and he was already involved in the movement when he came to live in the Bay Area in 1902. He established a cabinet shop and taught at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art.

The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed both his shop and the institute. At a meeting of the Arts and Crafts Society shortly after the disaster, he articulated his dream of a school that would fuse the practical and ideal goals of the artist.

School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts

In 1907 in Berkeley, Meyer founded the School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts with $45 in cash, 43 students, three classrooms, and three teachers: himself, the ceramicist Rosa Taussig, and the artist Perham W. Nahl. Meyer’s wife, Laetitia, was the school secretary. Talented designer Isabelle Percy West joined the faculty that fall.

In 1922 Meyer bought the four-acre James Treadwell estate at Broadway and College Avenue in Oakland. Students, faculty, alumni, and the Meyer family all pitched in to transform the dilapidated buildings and grounds into a college campus. Meyer, a skilled horticulturist, did the landscaping, and some of his work is still in evidence today.

California College of Arts and Crafts

In 1936 the school was renamed the California College of Arts and Crafts. Meyer remained president until his retirement in 1944. Enrollment grew dramatically after World War II.

New programs were added, such as Wood Design, Glass, Interior Architecture, and Film/TV; these, like all the school’s programs, would evolve in subsequent decades in response to new technologies and changes in the art world.

Noted Alumni & Faculty

CCA faculty and alumni have been on the forefront of almost every art movement of the last 50 years. Robert Arneson, Peter Voulkos, and Viola Frey helped instigate the ceramics revolution of the 1960s, which established that medium as a fine art.

The photorealist movement of the 1970s is represented by current faculty member Jack Mendenhall and alumni Robert Bechtle and Richard McLean. Nathan Oliveira and Manuel Neri were leaders in the Bay Area Figurative art movement.

CCA faculty and alumni have also been prominent in Conceptual art (Dennis Oppenheim, David Ireland), minimalist sculpture (John McCracken), painting (Squeak Carnwath), and film (Wayne Wang). Wolfgang Lederer, Michael Vanderbyl, Lucille Tenazas, and Martin Venezky have had a major impact on contemporary graphic design.

Recent Alumni & Faculty Accolades

The accomplishments of our recent alumni are varied and far-reaching. They have designed graphics for MTV and VH1, created characters for animated films by Pixar, illustrated editorials for major national magazines, and created Emmy-winning motion graphics. They have exhibited their work at the Cannes and Sundance film festivals and at museums around the world.

And, true to the CCA mission, they are agents of change. For example, a recent alumna of our Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice won an Oscar for her documentary film exposing the forces behind the 2008 financial meltdown.

A graduate of our MBA in Design Strategy program now works at the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation and has dedicated his career to improving health care in America.

CCA draws top faculty from the region’s flourishing professional communities in architecture, business, design, writing, and the arts. Many of our faculty members work for leading Bay Area companies such as Apple, Gensler, Google, LucasArts, and Pixar, and many of them are principals of their own firms in architecture, consulting, design, animation, or film.

The list of their awards, accolades, and publications is staggering. They have won Academy Awards, Fulbright fellowships, the Rome Prize, the MacArthur Award, Emmys, Guggenheim fellowships, AIGA medals, and more.

Recent Times

The Oakland campus witnessed much new construction after World War II, including Martinez Hall for painting and printmaking, the Treadwell Ceramic Arts Center, and Founder’s Hall, which houses the Meyer Library and Nahl Hall.

Several gallery spaces on the Oakland campus host faculty and student exhibitions and reviews; these include the Oliver Art Center, the Irwin Student Center gallery, the Isabelle Percy West Gallery, and the North/South Galleries.

The college established a presence in San Francisco starting in the 1980s, using leased space for its architecture and design programs, and the tremendous growth of those departments inspired the establishment in 1996 of a permanent campus in the Potrero Hill neighborhood, which continues to grow.

The 120,000-square-foot main building has won several awards for green design, and the Montgomery Building on the San Francisco campus -- among the largest solar-heated facilities in Northern California -- was designated as one of the country's top-10 green buildings by AIA COTE (American Institute of Architects, Committee on the Environment).

Learn more about the college's commitment to sustainable design and practice »

Today, with the additions of Animation, Interaction Design, Fashion Design, Writing and Literature, Visual Studies, and more, the college offers a total of 21 different undergraduate programs.

We also offer 12 graduate programs, which include not only the well-respected Graduate Program in Fine Arts, but also the Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice (inaugurated in 2003) and the MBA in Design Strategy (inaugurated in 2008), both of which are among the first of their kind.

In 2013 the college launched two new graduate programs: MFA in Comics and MFA in Film.

In 1998 the college established the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, a forum for the discussion and presentation of leading-edge art and culture. Capp Street Project, the renowned artist residency program, became part of the Wattis Institute that same year.

The Center for Art and Public Life, inaugurated in 2000, creates community partnerships and serves the Bay Area’s diverse populations. Its programming is woven across disciplines at CCA.

California College of the Arts

In 2003, in recognition of the institution’s growth and the broadening of its focus and offerings, the college changed its name to California College of the Arts. Today, Frederick Meyer’s “practical art school” is an internationally respected institution, attracting students and faculty from around the world.

New Mission Statement

In 2013, to better reflect its current goals, the college updated its mission statement to the following:

California College of the Arts educates students to shape culture and society through the practice and critical study of art, architecture, design, and writing. Benefitting from its San Francisco Bay Area location, the college prepares students for lifelong creative work by cultivating innovation, community engagement, and social and environmental responsibility.