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"Talent is only a starting point in this business."

- Irving Berlin in Theater Arts, February 1958


The Duke Ellington School of the Arts was established in 1974 and remains the sole D.C. public high school to offer a dual curriculum encompassing professional arts training and academic enrichment, in preparation for college and careers in the arts.

By naming one of his jazz bands The Washingtonians, Duke Ellington made his home part of his persona.  Our co-founderes, the late  philanthropist and avid art collector Peggy Cooper Cafritz and the late dancer and choreographer Mike Malone returned the favor, building this school to house the creative soul of the District, and to reflect the rich cultural diversity of the United States. Duke Ellington’s life inspires the vision that this school sets for its students: to develop themselves as artists, learners, and leaders

From the beginning, public and private partnerships have supported the school, which in 2000 evolved into the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Project (DESAP), which includes the D.C. Public Schools, the Ellington Fund, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and George Washington University. The goal of DESAP continues to be providing high school students with an educational experience that includes college preparatory academics, pre-professional artistic training, and access to the cultural and intellectual resources of the District of Columbia.


To nurture and inspire passion for arts and learning in talented students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to develop their artistic skills. We ensure that our students are prepared for post-secondary education and/or careers in the arts by offering an intensive arts-based program. We prepare our students to become productive citizens in our global society through our strong focus on community service.

Dual Curriculum Purpose

To provide talented high school students with the opportunity to achieve academic and artistic excellence. This dual emphasis forms the foundation upon which an Ellington education is built. As a college preparatory public school of the District of Columbia offering pre-professional training in Dance, Instrumental Music, Literary Media & Communications, Museum Studies, Technical, Design & Production, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Vocal Music, Ellington encourages students to reach their intellectual and creative potential; to develop the personal sense of discipline, cooperation,and hard work necessary to succeed in professional occupations; and to teach the skills that will contribute to the students’ personal fulfillment and proficiency in their chosen art form and academic life.

Ellington staff and faculty promise students and families an educational experience that
combines academic studies and artistic development. This experience prepares Ellington
students to make significant contributions to their own lives, their families, and their communities.

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