From a Rich History
to a Bright Future

April 24, 2023 0 comments
Regent University graduation then and now.

The School of Communication & the Arts Has
Come a Long Way Since Regent’s “Pioneer Days”

Founded as CBN University in 1977, the first classes at Regent University began a year later with 77 students, seven faculty and a handful of staff members. These academic “pioneers” were committed to a single goal: earning a master’s degree in communication and the arts.

Over the next four decades, the university “built for God’s glory” would add many other schools, degree programs and disciplines to equip Christian leaders to change the world. But the School of Communication & the Arts (SCA) will always be the field of study that bravely and boldly started it all.

1978: Inaugural faculty and staff members of Regent University’s School of Communication & the Arts.
1978: School of Communication & the Arts Begins
Inaugural Faculty & Staff Members

Regent University’s flagship school is not only going strong 45 years later but is also poised for tremendous growth, significant impact, and continued success under new leadership. During the 2022 fall semester, Dr. Simon Tarr began serving as dean of the Honors College and interim director of SCA.

He says leading—both schools—is a “double anointing” he began praying for more than a year ago: “I’m a filmmaker. That’s my academic background. I’ve been teaching film and media for 25 years. But I also have a background in building co-curricular, multidisciplinary advancement programs for students.” 

Tarr’s experience and expertise make him an excellent fit to lead SCA. The school’s Cinema-Television program recently won its 700th film award. That’s an impressive number for a Christian university located in Virginia Beach that often competes against much larger schools in New York City and Los Angeles.

Simon Tarr, Ph.D., MFA; Regent University Honors College Dean, School of Communication & the Arts Interim Director.
Simon Tarr, Ph.D., MFA | Honors College Dean, School of Communication & the Arts Interim Director

Mike Sinclair (SCA ’89), assistant professor of media and visual arts, educates his students about Regent’s rich history of achievement: “This is a university that got put on the map by winning two Student Academy Awards. ‘Bird in a Cage’ won the gold medal for best dramatic film in 1987, and ‘Turtle Races’ won silver in 1991.”

He adds, “It’s time to get back to that and think about what’s possible. We can make stuff bigger and better. I think we can return ourselves back to the national conversation with the big film schools. Our country needs that from a family value, wholesome-entertainment standpoint.”

To expand the reach and impact of Regent University’s legacy of excellence in communication and the arts, the school recently launched the Institute of Music & Worship. Tarr says the endeavor, launched in December 2022, will be a collaborative effort with SCA.

“The music program has so much potential,” Tarr insists. “It’s been created ex nihilo … out of nowhere, out of nothing. We had a few small degrees, and now we have this new Institute of Music & Worship.”

Gary Spell serves as director of the institute—a world-class center for innovative training in music and worship arts. While he and Tarr work very closely together, Spell answers directly to Regent University’s founder, Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson. It’s a music and worship partnership that began many years ago.

“Dr. Robertson always takes between Christmas and New Year’s as a personal retreat to seek the Lord on the direction for CBN, Operation Blessing and Regent University,” he explains. “It was probably eight or nine years ago that he called from that retreat and said the Lord had spoken to him. He told me, ‘It’s time to bring music to Regent.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s great. It’s exciting. How can I help you?’”

In 2015, Spell became the founding director of the Regent University Singers, a professional a cappella vocal ensemble, for which he is the exclusive arranger. Later, he and Robertson began an extended dialogue about establishing the school as a world leader in music and worship, culminating in the institute’s founding in 2022.

2022: Regent University's Institute of Music & Worship concert.
2022 Institute of Music & Worship Concert

“We want to produce graduates with market-driven degrees who can change the world,” Spell says. “Curiously, music education has remained largely unchanged over the past 75 years or so. The classical method we use to teach piano and voice hasn’t changed in over a hundred years. In many ways, we’re going to have to rewrite the book on how music education is approached.”

The composer, conductor, orchestrator, musical director, and worship pastor points out that high school and college students are producing today’s music “using methods and modalities that didn’t even exist 15 years ago.” They’re composing on digital, audio workstations using tablets, laptops, and even smartphones while they sit in coffee shops and cafes wearing earbuds and sipping lattes.

“The Regent University Institute of Music & Worship will become the preeminent destination for music and worship education to impact society for generations to come,” Robertson insists. “Our vision is to create the most innovative and influential music program in the world, and we’re going to do it!”

The global Church faces a rapidly growing need for proficient musicians and worship artists who can inspire crowds and congregations around the world. At the Institute of Music & Worship, Spell and others will teach students to develop their God-given talent to become skilled musicians, worship leaders, composers, recording artists, and multimedia technicians for a broad range of careers.

“I love Beethoven, Bach and Chopin, and there are tons to learn from them,” Spell admits. “But there are tons of other stuff as well. So, we want to build a robust, multifaceted, contemporary, forward-looking music school producing graduates ready to step out of the classroom and start working professionally as musicians and music educators and really impact the world.”

Dr. Joan Pi is another key figure in Regent’s efforts to train the next generation of Christian leaders to use music and worship to make a global impact. An assistant professor of performing arts and music, Pi is also the director of choral activities and Regent’s music program coordinator.

“In the fall of 2021, the university launched a bachelor’s degree program in music that encompasses church music, music leadership, and music performance,” she says. “As program coordinator for the music degrees, I will work closely with the institute to help ensure a credentialed, musically robust, and high-quality experience for those who participate.”

Pi insists that the institute’s academically rigorous degree programs will elevate the quality of a Regent diploma to exceed the current standards of 21st-century higher education. The university’s music programs will exist to equip Christian leaders—in both church and secular settings—to change thoughts, words, deeds, culture, and, eventually, the world.

2022: Regent University Institute of Music & Worship Concert.
2022 Institute of Music & Worship Concert

“They will take music from their hearts out into the world to serve others,” she explains. “This world needs the heart of Christ in every aspect of our lives. Our generation needs Christ-centered music, art and culture. The institute is where we can center ourselves to be like Jesus and revere God in music-making and collaborating in music, arts, literature, education, and ministry.”

“We offer world-class education, state-of-the-art facilities, and relevant and rigorous musical training to equip students for success,” Spell adds. “Our extraordinary programs, integrated with premier performances and hands-on training, will equip musicians and worship artists to impact communities and countries for eternity.”

Learn more about the Institute of Music & Worship at To apply to the School of Communications & the Arts, visit

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