J Kline Ph.D. Watkins headshot low-res WwebArt is an indispensable quality of the human experience.

It surrounds us, feeds us, enrages us, inspires us; it is provocative, messy, considered, spontaneous, intuitive, perfect, and incomplete.

It is human. Art is the reflection of our shared experience—Hamlet’s “mirror up to nature.” It comments upon the present and forecasts the future. Artists are the cartographers of the infinite and the scribes of the immediate.

At Watkins College of Art, Design & Film you will become the artist you are meant to be. You will never work harder and you will demand greater challenges. You will be fearless, vulnerable, generous, brilliant, and naive all at once. You will have a life of trial, success, failure, risk, and growth in every moment. You will have the privilege of leading life “all-in.”

Nashville is a city on the cutting edge of the creative economy and Watkins its shining star in art education. Your training at the college, and experience of the vast opportunities the city affords, will prepare you for a career in your discipline. You will meet legends of the art world, experience classic and contemporary masterpieces, and leave us prepared in technique, vision, aesthetic, and business savvy.

Watkins’ faculty members are leading practitioners in their fields. They will bring to you real life experience, based upon unparalleled professional success. Watkins professors all come to us at the height of their careers, wanting only to make such achievement happen for you. The college is beautiful; the equipment, studios, and technology are the best to be found.

At Watkins we—students, staff, and faculty—welcome you to the life of the mind and invite you into the community of artists. Here you will find that together, nothing is impossible.

J. Kline, Ph. D.
J. Kline signature cropped


photo by Kristy West

MISSION STATEMENTWatkins College of Art

Watkins College of Art challenges individuals to deepen their talent, refine their creative practice, and dedicate their lives to advancing culture through the illuminating power of art.


In pursuit of its mission, Watkins has a distinct and ambitious vision that focuses on what the institution is today and what it will be in the years ahead. The institution’s vision for its immediate and long-term future includes greater regional, national and international recognition:

  • For its services as a distinctive art, design and film college with outstanding degree programs in all of its academic offerings.
  • For its established record as an academically and professionally sound institution that provides a safe, open and supportive learning environment; that produces graduates who have the tools to be critical, analytical thinkers and creators and who are equipped to find fulfilling employment locally, regionally, nationally and beyond.
  • For its services as an institution whose programs and students uniquely and regularly serve individuals, groups and organizations in diverse communities through projects that improve or enrich the lives of citizens, while giving students real-world learning experiences.

Watkins seeks out and enrolls students who are focused, dedicated and passionate about art, design and film; who intend to pursue their fields professionally or on a continuing basis; who meet increasingly selective standards of admission, and who come from diverse communities regionally, nationally and internationally. Watkins strives to be financially affordable through a comparatively modest tuition in tandem with financial aid. Watkins continues to employ faculty noted for their professional work, as well as their academic backgrounds. A special effort has been made to find faculty who demonstrate outstanding commitment and ability as classroom and studio instructors. To complement their teaching proficiency, faculty members continue to be practicing artists, designers and filmmakers active in their respective professional fields.

Students leave the institution with the knowledge and skills to be practicing professionals and/or lifelong learners and scholars in the arts. Moreover, because of the special role that the visual artist should play as a conscience, critic and visionary in society, Watkins graduates leave the institution with an educational perspective firmly based in the liberal arts.

Watkins College of Art, Design and Film


What we now know as Watkins College of Art, Design & Film has roots in the generosity and vision of one man:  Samuel Watkins (1794-1880), a self-made entrepreneur and philanthropist, orphaned at the age of 4, who lacked any formal education. In his will he left $100,000 and property in the center of Nashville for the establishment of a school that would teach those in need the “business of life.”

Watkins Institute began operations in 1885 and immediately became the center for arts in Nashville. One month after the doors were opened, the school, under the auspices of the Nashville Art Association, held the city’s first comprehensive art exhibition and soon after began an art school. Instruction in the visual arts has continued without interruption ever since.

As Nashville’s needs changed, so did the school. Over the first 100 years of operation, it assisted, trained and schooled nearly 350,000 men, women and children. Art has always been a major focus but Watkins Institute’s goal was to meet the ever-changing needs of the populace. The school has helped immigrants with assimilation during the beginnings of the 20th century, helped prepare women for the workplace in the 30’s and 40’s, and offered servicemen returning from World War II the opportunity to complete their high school degrees.

The transition to a full college began in 1977 when the State of Tennessee’s Higher Education Commission (THEC) approved Watkins Institute to offer Associate degrees in Fine Art and in Interior Design. The Film School was established in the mid-1990’s.  THEC approved Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in Film and Interior Design in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in Photography, Graphic Design and Fine Art followed and in 2007 a Bachelor of Arts in Art was added.
Watkins College of Art, Design and Film


Now in its 129th year of continuous education service, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film, as the institution is now known, operates as an independent, non-profit, four-year, nationally accredited college of the visual arts, proud of the accomplishments of both our award-winning faculty and students who continue to explore the role of art and the artist in the 21st century.


With its 65,000-square-foot facility, two state-of-the-art residence halls, 13 acres of land and plenty of space to grow, Watkins has positioned itself as a leader in visual arts education.  Adhering to the legacy of its founder, Watkins continues to shape and positively influence the cultural horizon and economy of our community through art, design and film.


Watkins College of Art, Design & Film has been designated as a major cultural institution by local and state arts agencies and receives funding from the the Metro Nashville Arts Commission (MNAC)the Tennessee Arts Commission (TAC), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

MNAC logo          

Board of Trustees


Samuel E. Stumpf, Jr. (Chair)

Ken McDonald (Vice-Chair)

Taylor H. Henry (Secretary/Treasurer)


Watkins Commissioners_2014

Commissioners Walter Knestrick, Susan Basham and Brownlee O. Currey, Jr.

Susan A. Basham

Brownlee O. Currey, Jr.

Walter Knestrick


Beth Scott Clayton Amos

Emme Nelson Baxter

Lynn Bennett

David H. Berryman

James H. Clayton III

Stephanie Conner

Dee Doochin

Donna Glassford

Robert M. Hebert, Jr.

Reggie Hill

Anna Jaap

James R. Kelley

Carol L. McCoy

Eileen N. McGinn

Debbye W. Oliver

Cano A. Ozgener

Laurence M. (Larry) Papel

Samantha Saturn

Walter F. Schatz

Steve Sirls

John M. Steele

Tarun Surti

Pam Thomas

Laura Turner

William (Bill) Warfield

Waddell H. Wright

Trustees Emeriti

Ward DeWitt, Jr.

Ralph T. Glassford

Lee Ann Hawkins

Lucille Nabors

Paulette Whitworth

Ex Officio

J. Kline, Ph. D., President, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film

Bill Haslam, Governor, State of Tennessee

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General, State of Tennessee


Commissioners’ photo by Jeremy Ryan


President, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film


In becoming the 16th president in Watkins’ century-plus history, Joseph (J.) Kline, Ph.D., brings two decades of higher education administrative experience to the position, with expertise in student recruitment, interdisciplinary programming, fundraising and strategic partnerships. His career is noted for expertise in a variety of arts disciplines and includes distinguished work as a teacher, writer and performing artist.

Watkins J. Kline PhD president lakeside 8.2015 Wweb

President J. Kline

Dr. Kline came to Watkins from Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU), where was Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Professor of Theatre (2009-2015). In that role he guided the major programs in art, theatre, music, music education, digital filmmaking and communication, responsible for curriculum and assessment, budgets, artist activities, recruiting, galleries and capital projects. Among his accomplishments were oversight of a $7.5 million renovation of the art building (fine art, film and graphic design) and a $9 million renovation of the music building. He served on ENMU technology, strategic planning and reaccreditation committees and was host of a weekly show on the university’s NPR-affiliated radio station.

From 2005-2009, Dr. Kline was Professor and Chair, Performing Arts Department, and Producing Artistic Director, School of Performing Arts, at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where he had oversight of curriculum, faculty and staff, budgets and artistic performance of the school of performing arts. He also served as Chair of the Departments of Production Design and of Dramatic Writing (the latter major was developed and launched under his guidance).

Highlights of his SCAD tenure were major program revisions to Performing Arts and Production Design (both BFA and MFA) and substantial increase in student recruitment and production activities (mainstage, studio, lab, singing ensembles). He also established a partnership with the Tony Award-winning Alliance Theatre as a component of performing arts graduate studies, for which he devised the curriculum.

Previously, he was Associate Professor and Chair, Performing and Fine Arts Department, at DeSales University (Center Valley, PA), with executive supervision of majors in TV/Film, theatre and dance and oversight of the university’s fine art and music offerings. While serving as chair, student enrollment in the department increased by more than 100%, making performing and fine arts the largest department in the university.

He was on the artistic staff, as associate/line producer and actor and director, at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, the official Shakespeare Festival of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

An effective classroom and studio educator, Dr. Kline’s teaching experience includes acting, directing, arts management, production, theatre history, dramatic literature, criticism, dramaturgy, playwriting and aesthetics.

A member of the Dramatists Guild, Actors’ Equity Association, and SAG-AFTRA, Dr. Kline has directed and/or performed at Pennsylvania Shakespeare, Barter Theatre, Maryland Shakespeare Festival, Folger Theatre, Denver Center Theatre Company, as well as appearing in feature films, network TV series and national commercials. A playwright with more than 10 premier productions to his credit, including original plays, adaptations and dance and multi-media works, he served as playwright-in-residence at the Barter Theatre (the State Theatre of Virginia, in Abingdon).

Dr. Kline holds a Bachelor of Arts in Performing Arts (theatre) from Colorado State University, a Master of Fine Arts in Drama (acting) from the Catholic University of America, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Fine Arts (playwriting/arts management) from Texas Tech University.