The Story of Visible

We launched in Memphis, Tennessee in 2000. The focus is on creating small, intentional artist communities throughout the world that emphasize growth in four key areas: global, spiritual, professional and academic.

The Beginning

Launched in Memphis, Tennessee in 2000, the vision of Visible Music College is unique in higher education. The focus is on creating small, intentional artist communities throughout the world that emphasize growth in three key areas: spiritual, professional and academic.

Visible expanded to Chicagoland in 2014 and Dallas in 2015 as part of president and founder Ken Steorts’ 2020×2020 vision – 20 sites in 20 cities serving 2,020 students by 2020. From Sarah Simmons (NBC’s The Voice) to indie darlings Carolina Story, Visible alumni are on the charts, in the studio and making an impact in the church.

Fulfilling a Need

You may know Steorts’ name from the first time he made his mark in the music world, as founding guitarist of Christian rock band Skillet. He spent years on the road as a touring musician and met hundreds of young people hungry to start careers in music, but who had no access to high level training that was grounded in faith. He felt called to solve the problem, and started what was then The Visible School out of an old catfish restaurant in the suburbs of Memphis. 

Skillet circa 1996

In 16 years it’s grown into a gorgeous downtown Memphis campus, a sister campus in Germany (SchallWerkStadt, opened in 2011), a branch campus in Chicagoland (Lansing, IL, Fall 2014) and a teaching site in Dallas, TX (Fall 2016).

These sites and more in cities to follow will ultimately grow to model the original Memphis campus, with affiliated record labels and community music education outreach programs. The model of ministry for Visible is to create small communities of artists in each city – the total enrollment is deliberately set low at 140 – and to provide students with rigorous training, the opportunity to learn from top professionals and grow in discipleship.

From the Ground Up

The first Visible location, in the Memphis suburb of Lakeland, TN, was a metal building in desperate need of repair.Originally a catfish restaurant, it had been abandoned a decade earlier and sugar packets were still on the tables. The kitchen was a greasy mess. Steorts and his team cleaned and updated the building, from electrical codes and HVAC to new carpeted offices with modern fixtures. Visible completed studio space with student labor and fixed all areas for and with Grace Covenant Church, including repair of the destroyed parking lot and adding trees and signage. The school’s partnership with the church left behind a renovated space attractive enough for a future church, The Refuge, to move in and update the building to the active church site it is today.

Lifelink Church bought the Galloway United Methodist Church building at Cooper and Walker in midtown Memphis in 2008; Visible moved later in 2009 to occupy it with Lifelink and began to renovate this 100-year-old church building in a way that invited modernization. Visible brought a church building back from the edge of obscurity and helped make it the venue it is today – a community center of the Cooper-Young neighborhood, operating as the non-profit Cooper Walker Place. Without the school’s investment in the building, neighborhood, and people in the area, the four churches and dozen ministries and arts programs housed there would not be present today.


But the change on Madison Avenue dwarfs it all: Visible Music College acquired an abandoned iconic Memphis architectural landmark and brought it to life again with a redesign and repurpose of the space. It was transformed from a bank building to an academic and music hub. On a quiet downtown street full of abandoned buildings, 200 Madison Ave. came alive with music and students from 50 states and 20 countries. The waves of change reverberated off the core of the city and have caused new investment along the Madison corridor – new restaurants, business, housing – and a place of dead sidewalks is alive and buzzing today. 

With hundreds of students on the streets (and more than 50 percent of them staying in Memphis after completing college), Visible has altered the future of downtown Memphis, and this block and building especially. The college’s impact is not only in the renovation of a structure, but in the thousands of hours of community service given annually by students, the dozens of jobs created through the campus and the Visible Community Music School, and Visible’s affiliated label, Madison Line Records.

Let us train you

Do it. Don’t just talk about it. This is not Christian band camp. You will get hands on experience creating, writing, producing and managing all in the first year. 

Every week, from the time you first step on campus to your last recital and tour. After that, a career you’ve always dreamed of, doing what you have learned from us at Visible Music College.