As Idyllwild Arts Academy parents have seen time and again, this is a school that changes lives through the transformative power of art. Don Put, former Academy Creative Writing Chair and College Counsellor, testifies to the impact of the Academy’s distinctive brand of education on his daughter, Emielia Audrey, who graduated in 2011. “I look at her and my former students and am constantly reminded how they developed as artists,” he says. “They learned critical thinking skills, poise, confidence, passion, purpose, and a worldview that young people seldom acquire at such an early age.”
The approach produces trailblazers such as street artist and founder of OBEY Clothing Shepard Fairey, creator of the iconic 2008 “HOPE” poster depicting then US presidential candidate Barack Obama. “I think that I would not have gotten into the Rhode Island School of Design if I hadn’t developed my portfolio at Idyllwild Arts,” he says. “It made me really understand how much discipline and focus was necessary. I had amazing teachers and a lot of great students who were at the school to take inspiration from.”
For over 70 years, students from dozens of countries all over the planet have journeyed almost exactly a mile above sea level into the mountains of Southern California to attend Idyllwild Arts. Young people from outside the United States flock to Idyllwild Arts because of its international reputation.
On the other hand, many of the Academy’s US students had been introduced to Idyllwild Arts by the celebrated Idyllwild Arts Summer Programme. The Summer Programme offers in-person arts workshops for teenagers, as well as Adult and Native American Arts workshops.
The first glimpse of the Idyllwild Arts campus, whether one arrives to start the Academy year in the fall, or in June or July for one of the Summer Programme’s immersive art experiences, takes one’s breath away. The dorms, classrooms, performance spaces, practice rooms and studios are surrounded by a wooded terrain that, to the discerning eye, bears the imprint of the Native American Cahuilla people who have stewarded the land throughout the generations and continue to steward it for all future generations.
After that initial stunning view, one senses the school’s welcoming and inclusive spirit. “The inclusivity at Idyllwild Arts is amazing,” says Musical Theatre major Alyssa Minor. “It makes you feel as though you belong to a community and as if this is a safe place to grow.”
Since reopening for in-person classes last fall, the school has been methodically practising a suite of health, safety and wellness measures that were devised in consultation with a panel of medical experts. These include universal masking, physical distancing, adequate ventilation and avoidance of large group activities. Every week, the school conducts COVID-19 tests. In the fall this yielded only seven positive cases (with just one of them being mildly symptomatic) out of 300 students and employees.
“It was lovely to have the students begin coming back to campus in October,” explains Head of School Marianne Kent-Stoll. “Obviously, campus life is different because of the pandemic. But we’re working tremendously hard to keep everyone safe, so it feels like we’re doing more than ever for our students. We admire the determination and dedication of our students to pursue their art despite the challenges imposed by COVID.”
Theatre major Aurora Wackford Muñoz commends the Academy’s “incredible” success in “balancing safety and procedures with connection and community.” She adds that, “During COVID, they have been incredible at testing, managing, and planning to get the safest community possible.”
Grow as a person and an artist
Aurora makes it clear that Idyllwild Arts is about safety, but much more: “The school has been a huge part of my growth as a person and an artist. It pushes you farther than you think that you can go, yet with the support from the faculty, staff, and other students, it feels like you can go further.”
Idyllwild Arts students develop the skills, creativity, and innovative thinking to prepare for the real world. For Creative Writing major Claire Kim, it wasn’t just the “incredibly collaborative community, supportive mentors and peers, and the unique experiences” that helped her fit right in. It was “the opportunity that allowed me to forge my own way of doing all of the things that I loved to do in one environment” that set Idyllwild Arts apart from her previous schools.
Besides a challenging college-prep curriculum for grades nine through 12 and postgraduates, the Academy offers intensive arts training. Students can choose to specialise in Creative Writing, Dance, Fashion Design, Film & Digital Media, Interdisciplinary Arts, Music, Theatre, or Visual Arts.
Each arts major’s curriculum is underpinned by the Idyllwild Arts belief in the arts as the greatest teacher of humanity. With the practice of creativity, each individual’s desire and ability to craft global change can take flight.
Consider Film & Digital Media major GaHyeong Lee’s efforts to come to grips with one global crisis. “A lot of my personal scripts specifically deal with stories of COVID, which I think would be interesting when I look back from when it’s all over,” she says.
At Idyllwild Arts Academy, pupils can be the best versions of themselves. It is where professional artists, innovative thinkers, and industry leaders are born.