Talk about a humble beginning. In 1973, a Nashville-area teacher named Nōssi Vatandoost decided to start a private art school in a house. Classes were held around a kitchen table, and total enrollment consisted of a mere two students.
Fast forward 50 years, and Nōssi College of Art and Design has emerged as the foremost post-secondary visual arts academy in Nashville. Hundreds of students now learn inside a state-of-the-art, 55,000-square-foot facility. There’s even a new program for the culinary arts.
Cyrus Vatandoost, the founder’s son, has spent most of his adult life working as an administrator at the college. Not surprisingly, his passion for the institution runs deep. Indeed, as Nōssi’s current president and CEO, he is often overheard talking about the importance of protecting the college’s name and integrity.
For the past several years, Nōssi College has served as the presenting sponsor of Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center’s annual James B. Hawkins Sumner County Student Art Show. The exhibition is on display at the MACC through April 21, 2023, so we thought it would be a good time to ask Vatandoost some questions about art education in general and about Nōssi College specifically.
Nōssi’s origin story is truly inspirational. It began with just two students sitting around a kitchen table. What inspired your mother to start an art school?
Cyrus Vatandoost: It’s really a remarkable story. She was a Metro Nashville high school arts teacher and loved it. One day in 1970, she went to her principal and told him she had some really talented students. She added that if she could get just a small budget approved for some supplies, she could really teach them so much more. He laughed and said, “ma’am we spend our budget on football and basketball, not art.” That really upset her. She went home and told my father what happened. He said, “you know what, you’re pregnant with a beautiful son. Why don’t you just start your own studio and teach kids what you want.” So, she did just that. But they didn’t have any money, and they lived in an apartment, so her friend let her use her kitchen. The rest is history.
Nōssi began with two students. How many students are enrolled in the college now, and where do they come from?
CV: Around 300 full-time students. We recruit most of our students from Tennessee, North Alabama, and Southern Kentucky. But we do have students from all over the country and even international students. They just find and choose us because we align with their dreams and career goals.
Is there a typical student who enrolls in Nōssi?
CV: Every student who enrolls at Nōssi has an underlying quality of creativity. Beyond that, our student body is very diverse. From traditional to adult, veteran and international students.
What are the most popular courses at Nōssi?
CV: Oh wow, that’s a tough question. I think I’d have to break it down by classes in each program. Art Direction in the Graphic Design Program, International Cuisine in the Culinary Arts Program, 3D art in the Illustration Program, and Social Media Marketing or Concert and Events in the Photography Program.
What makes Nōssi different from other art schools?
CV: Great question and a significant one. We pride ourselves on being a different art and design college by being hyperfocused on preparing our students with industry skills to work directly in their fields. And not just after graduation but during their time here at Nōssi. They are given opportunities for internships and paid freelance work while students. That way, upon graduation, it’s a natural transition into the full-time workforce. It’s worked for us for 50 years.
What prompted Nōssi to create an associate’s degree program in culinary arts?
CV: The industry came to us and said they need local talent to develop. They said it’s not sustainable for high-end restaurants to recruit from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Miami. So, we said sure, but only if you get down and dirty and help us on all levels to develop and teach curriculum.
These days, we hear a lot about the importance of STEM education. Why do you believe an arts education, or STEAM, is important?
CV: Every time I hear someone speaking about STEM and not STEAM, I want to jump up and scream. Art is design. Design is the natural progression after technology. Design leads Tech. For example, if it’s all about Tech we would still be carrying Blackberrys instead of iPhones. Driving a Nissan Leaf instead of a Tesla. At some point, Tech reaches an apex and Design takes over. Think of all the Tech around healthcare. UX/UI is at the top of their agendas. I can go on forever about this. It’s the most misunderstood concept, I think, among K-12 education administrators.
Have you seen any unexpected trends or changes in arts education in recent years? Is an art education different now than when you started at Nōssi in 1993?
CV: So different in every way. And, it’s changing year over year. What makes our college successful is that we can make a curriculum or course change and put it into effect the following semester. Technology and software, and design trends change fast; we have to adapt and change fast with it.
What do you hope Nōssi students will take away from their experience at the college?
CV: Look, they are going to take away industry skills for sure, that’s a given. But what I hope they take away from their experience is two things: First, self-confidence, because when a human has self-confidence, they can accomplish anything in life. And second, a sense of belonging. We want them to know that they are part of the Nōssi famiy forever. We will always be their biggest cheerleader.
Nōssi has been an important sponsor of Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center’s annual Student Art Show for the past five years. Among other things, Nōssi awards thousands of dollars in scholarship money to the winners. What has impressed you most (or surprised you most) about Sumner County’s middle school and high school art students?
CV: Sumner County students are very talented. They are sweet, kind, caring, and smart young teens that have a bright future. Their potential is what gets me up and to the office every morning.