History

Founded in 1980 as a joint urban-suburban venture of New Haven and Hamden, Co-Op was originally located on Lake Whitney in Hamden. The school partnership disbanded in 1985 and the New Haven component relocated to 800 Dixwell Avenue in the Elm City’s Newhallville section. At that time, Betsy Ross Arts Magnet Middle School was already serving students with an interest in the arts at what is now the Conte-West Hills School site in Wooster Square. Betsy Ross parents were eager to extend their children’s arts opportunities to the high-school level.

In response, New Haven school officials, with guidance from Mary Hunter Wolf, a renowned theater founder, director, and arts education visionary, established Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. Its mission was to provide a comprehensive arts and humanities curriculum to a diverse student body from New Haven. In its first year, 90 freshmen were trained three times per week for 45 minutes in theater or dance from a staff of two part-time teacher-artists.

As the school’s reputation, enrollment, and need for space grew, in 1991 Co-Op moved into 444 Orange Street in the East Rock neighborhood, the former St. Mary’s High School. Co-Op also became a regional interdistrict magnet school, accepting 35% of its students from 30 suburban school districts and 65% from New Haven.

With its ever-expanding student body, staff, and need for adequate arts spaces, Co-Op entered a new era by moving to downtown New Haven in 2009. Its present College Street home, a state-of-the-art facility designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, offers proximity to Yale, the Shubert Theatre, art galleries, performance spaces, the New Haven Green, cafes and shops, public transportation, and much more. Co-Op now has a 350-seat theater with fly loft and orchestra pit; black box theater; scene shop; music, dance, and television studios; science and computer labs; recording facilities; library media center; and art exhibit gallery.

Today, each of Co-Op’s 650 students selects an “arts major” in creative writing, dance, music, theater, or visual arts. Instructed by a staff of more than 20 full- and part-time teacher-artists, students pursue nearly two hours of arts study daily. The arts curriculum is carefully integrated into a traditional academic curriculum taught by a faculty numbering approximately 40.

For more than 30 years, Co-Op has celebrated the arts in each of us and in all we do, and we eagerly anticipate doing so for many years to come.