VCCA opened in 1971 and operated for five years in the Charlottesville area, first at Wavertree Farm and then at the Prospect Hill estate. Begun by writers Elizabeth Coles Langhorne and Nancy Hale, it counted among its original board members the novelist Peter Taylor and the former director of the MacDowell Colony, George Kendall.

In the summers of 1976 and 1977, VCCA held limited sessions on the campus of Sweet Briar, a vibrant liberal arts women's college founded in 1901. In the fall of 1977, Sweet Briar agreed to lease the buildings and the adjacent grounds of their Mt. San Angelo estate to VCCA. The original 25-year lease has now been extended to an automatically renewing 15-year lease.

As the only artist community in the nation directly associated with an institution of higher learning, VCCA benefits tremendously from this unique relationship. The College generously allows Fellows to use many of its facilities and services, including the libraries, computer labs, pool, exercise rooms and walking trails. Fellows may also attend campus events such as lectures, plays and concerts.

In return, VCCA Fellows periodically visit the campus to give lectures or informal talks, and Sweet Briar brings students to Mt. San Angelo for studio tours. The two institutions also collaborate on programs that bring writers, visual artists and composers to VCCA and Sweet Briar, offering opportunities to faculty and students.