The Department of Art was established less than 20 years after the school opened its doors. In 1939, Dr. Shepard hired Marion Parham Cordice to be director of art studies. She guided studies, organized the first student art exhibitions and laid the foundation for the NCCU Museum by purchasing a number of artworks. William Zorach soon joined the department and was commissioned to create the statue that stands in the center of the Hoey Administration Building entrance circle.
Initially, the Department of Art shared space with Music, Dramatic Art and the Dance Program, but since 1978 it has occupied the entire Fine Arts Building. Lynn Igoe, hired in 1960, pushed for the establishment of a museum and became its first director in 1971. She expanded the collection before leaving the museum to work on a two-volume bibliography of African-American art that has become the standard reference in the field. Among the faculty hired by Igoe were Norman Pendergraft, later the director of the museum, and Dr. Lana Henderson, who became department chair. During her 13-year tenure, Henderson worked to improve facilities and expand course offerings. As the number of art majors increased, the department offered bachelor's degree programs in Art Education and Studio Art. In 1973, Charles Joyner added a luster to the department with his fine prints and established a concentration in visual communications. Visual communications and digital design are the current strengths of the department, supported by modern computer labs. When Joyner left in 1977, Dr. Melvin Carver, a specialist in graphic and product design, replaced him. Carver became chair in 1990. He initiated a study-abroad program with the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, and has established a four-year scholarship in art studies.