Brian Cole

An innovative, experienced and bilingual arts leader, Brian Cole is the ninth chancellor of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA). The nation’s first public arts conservatory, UNCSA is one of 17 constituent campuses in the University of North Carolina System, and home to some of the top-ranked professional artistic training programs in the world. Cole leads approximately 1,300 students from high school through graduate school, as well as 700 summer and 500 community school students, and more than 600 faculty and staff.

He has led UNCSA through a worldwide pandemic, ensuring that UNCSA students would continue to learn, train and perform under the guidance of community health standards informed by scientists and the global arts and entertainment industry. He has also advocated for faculty and students to lead the industry in imagining new ways to create and innovate through the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Since he became chancellor, Cole filled five key leadership positions, including three arts deans, the executive director of the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts, and the executive vice chancellor and provost, forming a talented team that will take UNCSA into the next era. He is helming the Leadership Council to develop a new strategic plan for the next five years as UNCSA evolves to meet the demands of a transformed arts and entertainment landscape and help its student artists ignite cultural change in the industry.

The chancellor has also launched a universitywide equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) initiative to strategically identify and dismantle systemic problems of racism and inequality and create significant and sustained change in the institution and society.

In addition, he has provided leadership for the public phase of the first comprehensive campaign at UNCSA in decades, Powering Creativity: The Campaign for UNCSA, leading the school across the finish line to raise more than $75 million, surpassing the original goal by $10 million. 

The UNC Board of Governors appointed Cole as chancellor on May 20, 2020. He had previously served as interim chancellor at UNCSA since August 2019.

Cole joined UNCSA as the dean of the School of Music in 2016. In that capacity, he also served as the executive director for two preprofessional graduate institutes at the school: the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute and the Chrysalis Chamber Music Institute. In collaboration with the vice chancellor for advancement at UNCSA, Cole served as the lead for advancement projects for the School of Music. Under his leadership, the school doubled merit-based scholarship resources through major gifts totaling $4 million, and achieved a 150 percent increase in applications.

Prior to joining UNCSA, Cole served four years as the founding dean of academic affairs at Berklee College of Music’s campus in Valencia, Spain. Before that, he served seven years as associate dean of academic affairs at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music.

An accomplished conductor, Cole has led orchestras and operas throughout the United States, Europe, South America and the Caribbean. He has served the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as conducting assistant and also as assistant conductor for the May Festival. He has held the positions of assistant conductor and director of education and outreach programs for the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, and as music director of the Concert Orchestra of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Cole is a doctoral candidate in orchestral conducting at the University of Cincinnati. He received his Master of Music in instrumental conducting from the University of Illinois and his Bachelor of Music in bassoon performance from Louisiana State University.

In addition to his role as chancellor, Cole also chairs the board of the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts at UNCSA, and sits on the boards of directors of the RiverRun International Film Festival and the Arts Based School of Winston-Salem.


Doctoral Candidate, Orchestral ConductingUniversity of Cincinnati

M.M., Instrumental ConductingUniversity of Illinois

B.M., Bassoon PerformanceLouisiana State University