History

Arts plus our history.

For more than 50 years, we’ve served the Charlotte community with the goal of making outstanding arts education accessible to students of all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. Learn how it all started with a few pianos and a vision.

In 1969, Henry Bridges founded Community School of the Arts while he served as the organist and choir director of First Presbyterian Church in Uptown Charlotte. The program was born after Henry realized the church had 15 unused pianos in its basement and was surrounded by an urban neighborhood with children who could benefit from — but could never otherwise afford — high-quality music lessons.

Henry recruited four of the finest piano teachers in Charlotte as his faculty, and from more than 150 applications, he accepted 20 children the inaugural year. Students received instruction free of charge five days a week, which included two piano lessons, supervised practice, choir, sight singing and music theory. The quality of the instruction was exceptional and Community School of the Arts rapidly expanded to offer tuition-based programs for families who could pay for lessons, in addition to the School’s free and discounted outreach programs.
 
Henry Bridges remained the executive director of the School until 1982, when he stepped away from administrative duties and became a full-time piano teacher in the Piedmont Courts Public Housing Project. Henry brought his personal piano to the site and taught free weekly lessons to dozens of Piedmont Courts students. Henry retired from teaching in 1992 but remained a lifetime member of the Board of Directors until he passed away in March 2018.
 
In 1998, the School, which had long been an independent nonprofit housed at First Presbyterian Church, moved to new offices and studios at Spirit Square, providing a high-profile downtown location for School programs. The School has achieved a singular balance between its public programs, for which hundreds of families pay tuition, and its outreach programs, which are free to participants. From 20 students in 1969, the School has grown to serve more than 4,500 a year, and from four faculty members, the School has grown to employ over 50 dedicated instructors.
 
Through the School’s five decades, its programs have changed and expanded based on community demand, at times including dance, theater and extensive school-based classes. Arts+ now concentrates on instruction in music and the visual arts, offering private and group music lessons, visual art classes and workshops, summer camps and early childhood art education. And, as it has every year since its founding, Arts+ teaches extensively in low-income neighborhoods and provides significant student financial assistance, honoring its founding mission and the belief that an outstanding arts education should be available to all.