The Peck School of the Arts aims to provide the highest quality education and professional training in the arts at the baccalaureate and master’s degree levels. The school is committed to recruiting faculty, staff, and students who reflect the richness and diversity of art-making in a variety of cultures. As the only public school of the arts in Wisconsin in a major urban environment, the Peck School of the Arts encourages collaboration with community arts organizations and artists to provide professional experiences for its students.
The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents approved the creation of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in December 1962. It was the third school created at UWM, joining the College of Letters and Science and the School of Education. As one of the pioneering schools in the newly created University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, this new academic unit, comprised of departments of art, music, dance, and theatre, became a center for the creative and performing arts in a city that lacked such a nucleus. In 1974 a department of film was added to provide a full complement of arts training and programming.
The UWM Art Museum was created in 1982 to consolidate exhibition support and gallery space for the Art Department. In 1996 the museum’s name was changed to Inova (Institute of Visual Arts). Inova was one of the world’s top venues for contemporary art during its time.
In 1999 the school was renamed the Peck School of the Arts in recognition of the generosity of the Milton and Lillian Peck Foundation in supporting and sustaining the school’s many programs.
In 2000 the school acquired the temple across the street from campus, formerly the home of Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, and renamed it the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts in recognition of the lead donation for the acquisition made by the Nathaniel K. Zelazo Revocable Trust. The Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts is one of the premier performance venues in the greater Milwaukee area. It is home to the Helen Bader Concert Hall and the Peck School of the Arts Department of Music and its many ensembles.
In 2006, Kenilworth Square East, a six-story building that was originally a Ford car factory in the 1920s and 30s and more recently served as a warehouse for UWM, was reimagined through a $68 million renovation. It now serves as a large auxiliary facility for the Peck School of the Arts, with revamped artists’ studios for students and faculty, along with research, instruction, performance and production spaces.
In 2016, the School opened Jan Serr studio on the sixth floor of Kenilworth Square East boasting remarkable views of the city skyline and Lake Michigan. Named after artist and UWM Department of Art & Design alumna, Jan Serr, the school’s flagship venue provides a much welcomed home for contemporary and interdisciplinary artists. It also serves as a popular rental space.
In 2023, the College of the Arts & Architecture was formed as part of the UWM 2030 Action Plan, a strategic initiative designed to address the challenges facing higher education and position UW-Milwaukee for future success. The College of the Arts and Architecture unites the Peck School of the Arts and the School of Architecture and Urban Planning. Both schools maintain their strong identities and continue to exist as their own units under the new college.
Today the Peck School of the Arts offers over twenty undergraduate and graduate degree programs serving more than 2,100 students, making it one of the largest and most comprehensive arts schools in the region. The Peck School is a vital home for the arts, presenting more than 350 events each year.
For a comprehensive history of the establishment of the Peck School of the Arts, please refer to A Climate of Creativity by Adolph A. Suppan, Dean Emeritus.