Memphis College of Art to close its doors

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The historic Memphis College of Art in Overton Park is no longer going to accept students and will soon be closing its doors, the college's interim president announced Tuesday.

College leaders are calling this a heartbreaking day as they never wanted to think about closing the doors here, but the "overwhelming" real estate debt and declining enrollment became too much.

This is just the beginning for what’s going to be some big changes.

Shea Colburn thanks his career in the creative field to his time at Memphis College of Art.

“It was great. You really become part of a family.”

But faculty said it's time to start closing down the 81-year-old college.

Interim college president Laura Hine said they’re going to stop accepting new students and close their doors sometime around 2020.

“We’re really caught up in some head winds that are occurring on a national level," Hine said.

She’s referring to a decline in enrollment and an increase in debt.

Hine says there are just over 300 students enrolled at the school currently, which is down by about a quarter.

“These are challenges that have been going on on some level for several years.”

One large challenge is the growing debt that’s now around $7 million.

Leaders say it started to accrue in the early 2000s after the school expanded and bought nearby property for housing and offices before the economy took a hit.

“I feel for the students, I feel for the faculty. Best of luck to all of them," Colburn said.

College leaders say their programs and accreditation will stay the same until they close.

However, the 55 staff members will not all stay on board and many of the 90-odd freshmen will have to transfer schools to complete their degrees.

“Beyond the sadness, the overall mood was we’re all a part of the same family and we’re all going to pull together and hold our heads high and move forward," Hine said.

It's still unknown what the future of the building will be; MCA owns it, but it's on city property.

Alumni say they feel there are still plenty of opportunities for art in the community.

The college said in a news release that it has tried various ways to keep its doors open, but even after cutting costs and making other adjustments, they were forced to come to the conclusion that "an independent, private fine arts and design college is no longer financially sustainable in Memphis."

Despite the decision, the college said it will continue to offer Community Education programs like the Fashion Certificate Program, summer camps and adult art classes. The Holiday Bazaar is also still scheduled for November 17 to 18.