Since the earliest years of the university’s history, music and the dramatic arts have been a vital part of campus life. The college Glee Club sang at commencements, and seniors and dramatic arts students performed in campus productions during the school year. The Masquers Club, organized in 1933, invited all students to be a part of their dramatic productions. Within five years, the popularity of The Masquers Club increased to such a degree that their productions were limited to drama students only. Throughout the state, Howard College dramatic productions were well recognized, and that recognition continues to the present.
In 1948, the board of trustees unanimously approved the establishment of the Department of Music to offer the bachelor of music degree. Prior to that time, music was taught on campus by professional musicians from a local music school through a cooperative agreement, but a bachelor’s degree was not offered. By 1952, the music curriculum was so successful that more teaching space was required to accommodate the demand for music courses. In 1970, the department was elevated to school status.
In 2001, dramatic arts, known as the theatre department, moved to the School of Music, and the school was renamed the School of Performing Arts with a Division of Music and a Department of Theatre. A new major, musical theatre, was introduced, in both the music division and the theatre department. In 2008, the Department of Art formally joined the school, which was renamed the School of the Arts.
In 2009, the theatre department was renamed the Department of Theatre and Dance to recognize the expanded focus of the department. That same year, a new bachelor of fine arts in musical theatre was introduced.
In 2011, the Department of Interior Design formally joined the school and was renamed the Department of Interior Architecture, offering a bachelor of fine arts in interior design as well as a concentration in pre-architecture. In 2014, the Department of art and the Department of Interior Architecture were joined together as the Division of Visual Arts.
In the fall of 2017, the School of the Arts introduced a new curriculum, Catalyst, which is designed for the next generation of artists. The new course structure provides a collaborative and multi-disciplinary environment for students to prepare for today's job market while developing skills to fulfill meaningful vocations. The program culminates in an immersive senior Catalyst project, providing a professional-level experience.