The California Institute of the Arts, colloquially called CalArts, is a private university located in Valencia, in Los Angeles County, California. It was incorporated in 1961 as the first degree-granting institution of higher learning in the United States created specifically for students of both the visual and the performing arts. It is authorized by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) to grant Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts in the visual, performing, and, since 1994, literary arts. The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts was accredited in 2009 to grant a Doctor of Musical Arts.
The school was founded and created by Walt Disney in the early 1960s and staffed by a diverse array of professionals. The institute was started as Disney's dream of an interdisciplinary "Caltech of the arts". CalArts provides a collaborative environment for a diversity of artists. Students are free to develop their own work (over which they retain control and copyright) in a workshop atmosphere.
CalArts was originally formed in 1961 as a merger of the Chouinard Art Institute (founded 1921) and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music (founded 1883). Both of the formerly existing institutions were going through financial difficulties around the same time, and the founder of the Art Institute, Nelbert Chouinard, was also fatally ill. The professional relationship between Madame Chouinard and Walt Disney began in 1929 when Disney had no money and Madame Chouinard agreed to train his first animators on a pay-later basis. He never forgot and over the years watched the Chouinard Art Institute grow into the finest art school on the West Coast. It was through the vision of Disney, who discovered and trained many of his studio artists at Chouinard (including Mary Blair, Maurice Noble and some of the Nine Old Men, among others), that the merger of the two institutions was coordinated; the process continued after his death in 1966. Joining him were his brother Roy O. Disney, Lulu Von Hagen and Thornton Ladd (Ladd & Kelsey, Architects), of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music.
In 1965, the Alumni Association was founded as a nonprofit organization and was governed by a 12-member board of directors to serve the best interests of the institute and its programs. Members included leading professional artists and musicians, who contributed their knowledge, experience and skill to strengthen the institute. The 12 founding board of directors members were Mary Costa, Edith Head, Gale Storm, Marc Davis, Tony Duquette, Harold Grieve, John Hench, Chuck Jones, Henry Mancini, Marty Paich, Nelson Riddle and Millard Sheets.
The ground-breaking for CalArts' current campus took place May 3, 1969. However, construction of the new campus was hampered by torrential rains, labor troubles and the earthquake in 1971. So the "new" school began its first year in the buildings of Villa Cabrini Academy (7500 Glenoaks Blvd, Burbank, Calif.), a former Catholic girl school on the edge of downtown Burbank (where Woodbury University now stands). CalArts moved to its present campus in the Valencia section of the city of Santa Clarita, California in November 1971.
From the beginning, CalArts was plagued by the tensions between its art and trade school functions as well as between the non-commercial aspirations of the students and faculty and the conservative interests of the Disney family and trustees. The founding board of trustees originally planned on creating CalArts as a school in an entertainment complex, a destination like Disneyland, and a feeder school for the industry. Such a model is exemplified in the 1941 Disney film The Reluctant Dragon. In an ironic turn of fate, they appointed Dr. Robert W. Corrigan as the first president of the Institute.
Corrigan, former dean of the School of Arts at New York University, was attempting to create a similar mix of artistic disciplines as those that were going to be attempted at CalArts. Corrigan fired almost all the artists and teachers from Chouinard in his attempt to remake CalArts into his personal vision. He was joined the following year by his friend Herbert Blau, hired as the Institute's provost and dean of the School of Theater and Dance. Subsequently, Blau was instrumental in hiring a number of professionals like Mel Powell (dean of the School of Music), Paul Brach (dean of the School of Art), Alexander Mackendrick (dean of the School of Film/Video), sociologist Maurice R. Stein (dean of Critical Studies), and Richard Farson (dean of the School of Design; now integrated in the Art school as the Graphic Design program) as well other influential program heads and teachers such as Stephan von Huene, Allan Kaprow, Bella Lewitzky, Michael Asher, Jules Engel, John Baldessari, Judy Chicago, Ravi Shankar, Max Kozloff, Miriam Shapiro, Douglas Huebler, Morton Subotnick and Nam June Paik most of whom largely came from a counterculture and avant-garde side of the art world. The fundamental principles established at the Institute by Blau and the late Corrigan included ideas like âno technique in advance of need,â and that a curriculum should be cyclical rather than sequential, returning to root principles at regular intervals, and that âweâre a community of artists here, some of us called faculty and some called students."
Corrigan held his position until 1972, when he was replaced by William S. Lund, a Disney son-in-law, a Stanford B.A., active in business, real estate and economic counseling. Within a month of Lund's tenure as president, 55 of CalArts' 325 faculty and staff were fired. Structured schedules were introduced. Classes were trimmed back and, within a year, the institute was operating on budget. Some credit Lund with saving CalArts. Others see his tenure as the end of an idealistic experiment.
In 1975, Robert J. Fitzpatrick was appointed new president of CalArts. Holding this position for twelve years, in 1987 Fitzpatrick resigned as president to head Euro Disney in Paris. Nicholas England, former dean of the School of Music, was appointed acting president. One year later, Steven D. Lavine, associate director for arts and humanities at the Rockefeller Foundation, was named new president, a position he still holds.
Beginning in the summer of 1987, CalArts became the host of the state-funded California State Summer School for the Arts program. It began by the state of California as a program to nurture talented high school students in the fields of animation, creative writing, dance, film and video, music, theatre arts, and visual arts. CalArts expanded on the concept by creating the Community Arts Partnership in 1990. While CSSSA is open to qualifying California students, CAP, as it is commonly known, is a service provided to students living within underprivileged communities in the Los Angeles County school system. Many CalArts faculty and students mentor the high schoolstudents in both programs.
Over the years, the school has also developed on-campus, interdisciplinary laboratories, such as the Center for Experiments in Art, Information, and Technology, Center for Integrated Media, Center for New Performance at CalArts, and the Cotsen Center for Puppetry and the Arts.
In 1994, CalArts was damaged by the Northridge earthquake. Michael Eisner, on the board of trustees at the time, directed the real estate team at Disney to find a temporary site for the school. All the art programs were relocated to the Lockheed Rye Canyon Research facility for six months until the school was repaired.
That same year, Herb Alpert, a professional musician and admirer of the institute, collaborated with CalArts with his nonprofit foundation to establish the Alpert Awards in the Arts. While the foundation provides the award for winning recipients, the school's faculty in the fields film/new media, visual arts, theatre, dance, and music select artists in their field to nominate an individual artist who is recognized for their innovation in their given medium. Recipients of this award are required to stay for a week as visiting artists at CalArts and mentor students studying their metier. In 2008, CalArts renamed the School of Music in his name, courtesy of a $15 million donation.
The campus is located on McBean Parkway, which has a direct connection to Interstate 5.
CalArts offers degree programs in music, art, dance, film and video, animation, theater, puppetry, and writing. Students receive intensive professional training in the area of his/her career purpose without being cast into a rigid pattern. Its focus is in interdisciplinary, contemporary art, and the Institute's stated mission is to develop professional artists of tomorrow- artists who will change their field. With these goals in place, the Institute encourages students to recognize the complexity of political, social and aesthetic questions and to respond to them with informed, independent judgment.
Admissions to CalArts is based solely on the applicant's creative talent and future potential. Every school within the Institute does require that applicants send in an artist's statement, along with a portfolio or audition (depending on the Program) in order to be considered for admission. The school does not review an applicant's SAT scores without consent of the applicant, and does not consider an applicant's GPA as part of the admission process.
The initial concept behind CalArts' interdisciplinary approach came from Richard Wagner's idea of Gesamtkunstwerk ("total artwork"), which Disney himself was fond of and explored in a variety of forms, beginning with his own studio, then later in the incorporation of CalArts. He began with the classic Disney film Fantasia (1940), where animators, dancers, composers, and artists alike collaborated. In 1952, Walt Disney Imagineering was founded, where Disney integrated artists from his animation studio and elsewhere, as well as formally trained engineers and achieved creative critical mass in the development of Disneyland. He believed that the same concept that developed WDI, could also be applied to a university setting, where art students of different mediums would be exposed to and explore a wide range of creative directions. Disney himself has stated of his memorial school:
Schools and programs
Schools and degree programs available at CalArts include:
- School of Art: Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Photography and Media, Art and Technology
- School of Critical Studies: MFA Writing, MA in Aesthetics and Politics
- School of Film/Video: Film and Video, Experimental Animation, Character Animation (BFA), Film Directing (MFA)
- The Herb Alpert School of Music: DMA Composer-Performer, Composition, Composition for New Media/Experimental Sound Practices (ESP) (MFA), Performer/Composer, Performer/Composer: African American, Improvisational Music (MFA), Music Technology (BFA and MFA), Performance, Musical Arts (BFA), World Music (BFA and MFA)
- School of Theater: Acting, Directing (MFA), Writing for Performance (MFA), Puppetry (MFA), Design and Production: Costume Design, Lighting Design, Producing (MFA), Stage Management, Production Management (MFA), Scene Design, Sound Design, Video for Performance (MFA), Technical Direction, Scenic Painting, (MFA).
- The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance: Dance (BFA), Choreography (MFA)
Walt Disney Modular Theater
The Walt Disney Modular Theater is an indoor performance space located within the California Institute of the Art.
Funded by Lillian Disney, who lent support to Walt's venture into education, her gift to the school to remodel a campus theater and rename it the Walt Disney Modular Theater in 1993. The modular theater is based on a concept suggested by Antonin Artaud, who asserted that the ideal theater could be reconfigured for each and every new performance or play. When Walt Disney founded his Institute of the Arts, he requested suggestions from leaders in various artistic fields as to what would be the ideal tools for advancing the study and practice of their medium. One of the overwhelmingly popular suggestions from the theater community was a modular theater as suggested by Artaud. Disney had the Modular Theater incorporated as the central performance space of his Institute. It was the first of its kind constructed, and remains one of only five in the world.
The chief feature of the theater is a segmented floor, divided into 348 4'x4' square platforms, each mounted on its own independent pneumatic pistons, allowing the floor to be reconfigured into whatever shape is desired. The theater is also composed of segmented pieces, so that walls can also be easily reconfigured, creating a virtually limitless number of possibilities in design. The theater is two stories tall from floor to ceilingâ"the pneumatic pistons reach another story down into the CalArts library, where they are a dominating architectural feature. There are doors on all sides of the theater so that the audience can be made to enter from whatever direction the artists choose. The theater can be divided into several playing spaces, the audience can be separated into several sections, and any combination of levels and directions can be used. The theater can also be configured into an environmental space, with the audience moving through multiple locations in the course of a show, or being presented with a virtual environment rather than one in which they are separate from the performance.
The Walt Disney Modular Theater is employed year-round by students and faculty at the CalArts, primarily those in the schools of Theater, Dance, and Music. Though the idea of modular theater has fallen out of fashion, in favor of environmental theater and the resurgence of proscenium spectacle theater, the theater remains in use, run by the Technical Direction Department, including both students and faculty.
It was designed by Fisher Dachs Associates, a collaboration between the Dean of the Theater School, Herbert Blau, lighting designer Jules Fisher, and Thornton Ladd (Ladd & Kelsey, Architects).
A113 is an Easter egg that has been inserted into several animated television shows and feature films as a homage to a classroom at CalArts.
Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater at Walt Disney Concert Hall
In 2003, CalArts established a performance theater in downtown Los Angeles called REDCAT, the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Center for New Performance, the professional producing arm of the CalArts Theater School, brings works to the space from both student and professional artists and musicians.
In fall 2009, the Institute opened an on-campus music pavilion, known as the "Wild Beast". The 3,200-square-foot (300Â m2), free-standing structure serves as a space for classrooms and combined indoor-outdoor performance space. CalArts' President Steven Lavine has stated, âThe core demand is that our Herb Alpert School of Music has doubled in size in the last decade; when we have guest artists, there is no place for them to performâ"And the second reason was to allow enough space for the general public to attend [...]â
John Baldessari Art Studio Building
In 2013, CalArts opened its John Baldessari Art Studio Building, which cost $3.1 million to build and features approximately 7,000 square feet of spaceâ"much of it used as studio space for art students and faculty.
Notable alumni, faculty, and visiting artists
- List of California Institute of the Arts people
CalArts confers honorary Doctor of Arts degrees to artists who have consistently represented the bold innovation and visionary creativity championed by the Institute, and who have each made extraordinary contributions to contemporary arts and culture. A list of past honorary degree recipients, include:
Critical reception and cultural influence
In 2011, Newsweek/The Daily Beast listed CalArts as the top school for arts-minded students. The ranking was at not about being the country's best art school, but rather for "campuses that offer an exceptional artistic atmosphere".
In 1969, during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Valencia campus, as Lillian Disney turned over the first shovel full of soil, director Bob Clampett stood behind her mugging for the flashing cameras.
Several students who attended CalArts' animation programs in the 1970s eventually found work at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and several of those went on to successful careers at Disney, Pixar, and other animation studios. In March 2014, Vanity Fair magazine highlighted the success of CalArts' 1970s animation alumni and briefly profiled several (including Jerry Rees, John Lasseter, Tim Burton, John Musker, Brad Bird, Gary Trousdale, Henry Selick and Nancy Beiman) in an article illustrated with a group portrait taken by photographer Annie Leibowitz inside classroom A113.
In the late eighties, a group of CalArts animation students contacted animation director Ralph Bakshi. As he was in the process of moving to New York, they persuaded him to stay in Los Angeles to continue to produce adult animation. Bakshi then got the production rights to the cartoon character Mighty Mouse. By Bakshi's request, Tom Minton and John Kricfalusi then went to the CalArts campus to recruit the best talent from what was the recent group of graduates. They hired Jeff Pidgeon, Rich Moore, Carole Holiday, Andrew Stanton and Nate Kanfer to work on the then-new Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures television series.
In an interview, Craig âSpikeâ Decker of Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation commented on the work of independent animator Don Hertzfeldt stating that Hertzfeldt demonstrated good instincts coupled with his lack of interest in the world of commerce. In making a comparison, Decker made a reference to CalArts stating âA lot of animators come out of CalArts_they could be so prolific, but then they're owned by Disney or someone, and they're painting the fins on the Little Mermaid. You'll never see their full potential."
Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, members of the band Sonic Youth, remarked in an interview with VH1 about the band Liars, of which Angus Andrew and Julian Gross are CalArts luminaries. Moore's initial remarks were, "There's this whole world of young people who [think] everything's allowed. What Liars are doing right now is completely crazy. I saw them the other night and it was really great. It's really out-there." Gordon then stated "I'm not so crazy about the way [the Liars' They Were Wrong, So We Drowned] sounds. It's like "how lo-fi can we make it?" But I think the content is really good." In reference to CalArts and Gordon's statement, Moore lastly remarked "They're art kids. They came out of CalArts and that's the kind of sensibility you have when you come out of these sort of places."
In the LA Weekly op-ed piece "The Kids Arenât All Right: Is over-education killing young artists?", published in 2005, curator Aaron Rose wrote about an observed trend he recognized in Los Angeles's most esteemed art schools and their MFA programs, including CalArts. He uses the example of Supersonic, "a large exhibition [â¦] that features the work of MFA students from esteemed area programs like CalArts, Art Center, UCLA, etc." In his observation of the showcase he examined, "[...] the work left me mostly empty and with a few exceptions seemed like nothing more than a rehash of conceptual ideas that were mined years ago." He went on to state that "these institutions are staffed with amazing talents (Mike Kelley and John Baldessari among them). Legions of creative young people flock to our city [Los Angeles] every year to work alongside their heroes and develop their talents with hopes of making it as an artist." He goes on to further state "What happens too often in these situations, though, is that we find young artists simply emulating their instructors, rather than finding and honing their own aesthetics and points of view about the world, society, themselves. In the beginnings of an artistâs career, the power in his or her work should lie not in their technique or knowledge of art history or theory or business acumen, but in what one has to say."
Contemporary artist Amanda Charchian was asked in an interview what she disliked about going to art school. In her response, she noted, "Most of my teachers came from the 1970â²s CalArts conceptual art world, so they had us deconstruct everything we did in terms of the material being the message. So if I used marble it had to be about social class, ancient sculpture, heaviness, etc. There was this idea that thereâs nothing in the work that couldnât relate to why you made it. Intuition was never enough of a reason."
Bourgeoisvant-Garde is a combination of the concepts of "bourgeois" art and culture and "avant-garde" art and culture. Both "bourgeois" and "avant-garde"are very broad and ambiguous terms; "bourgeoisvant-garde" maintains the ambiguity of both. The term Bourgeoisvant-Garde was fist uttered by Corey Hanson while talking with his friends and fellow artists Antone Konst, John Martin, and Jordan Johnson. All of these young artists attended CalArts, a private and self described 'experimental' arts institution in the upper class suburb of Valencia, CA. Antone Konst has latched on to the term, which he thinks is very descriptive of the majority of arts and artists today, and has developed the term further. The term is neither negative or positive, but many find it offensive because it challenges 'avant-garde' status. The birth of this new term resolved the discussion these students were having. They were trying to classify the atmosphere at CalArts, which is both an excellent environment for encouraging experimental and avant-garde artistry while maintaining close ties to galleries and museums and institutions which cater to a middle/upper class that does not embrace true subversion of their systems. The balance of (social and cultural) rupture and bourgeois appeal results in subtle and safe subversive art that makes the audience feel excited about change but not afraid of it. This mixture is extremely successful in the arts, because artists can be experimental amd have the support of galleries and institutions. "Bourgeoisvant-Garde' does not suggest that the avant-garde is defunct, or that bourgeois culture is void of real content.
Pixar University is an in-house professional-development program within Pixar that expands the concept of employee education by broadening its focus from skills training to a more general fine-arts education. It is speculated to be based on the educational model of CalArts. The program offers more than 110 courses: a complete filmmaking curriculum, classes on painting, drawing, sculpting and creative writing, which usually last four to sixteen weeks. These classes are available not only for animators, but everyone, from the security guard to cafeteria chef. In this setting, employees are allowed to miss work for a full slate in classes (about 14 per week) to raise the level of the best, cross-train, and develop mastery in whatever subjects may interest them. The vision behind the university is for employees to try new things, work together better and test new ideas, but one of the most important benefits from the program is to build morale, spirit and communication among employees. The dean of Pixar University, Randy S. Nelson, explains: "We've made the leap from an idea-centered business to a people-centered business. Instead of developing ideas, we develop people. Instead of investing in ideas, we invest in people. We're trying to create a culture of learning, filled with lifelong learners. It's no trick for talented people to be interesting, but it's a gift to be interested. We want an organization filled with interested people.".
CalArts graduates have joined or started successful pop bands, including: The Belle Brigade, The Weridos, Beelzabubba, Dawn of Midi, The Rippingtons, Fitz and The Tantrums, London After Midnight, No Doubt, Mission of Burma, Radio Vago, Oingo Boingo, Liars, The Mae Shi, Ozomatli, and Jack Ruby.
Today, CalArts is recognized alongside Black Mountain College and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design as one of the truly successful experiments in American arts education.
On, August 29, 2014 a freshman student identified as Regina filed a Title IX complaint against CalArts, regarding CalArts' improper response to her reported rape by a classmate. According to the October 14, 2014 Aljazeera article Calarts administration mishandled the investigation. Including questions that victimized the reporting studentShe was subjected to retaliation from friends of the perpetrator and CalArts administration are alleged to have failed to curb said retaliation. The investigation is currently pending and the alleged perpetrator, who was suspended for a year, is slated to return to CalArts in Fall of 2015.
- Black Clock
- The Pictures Generation
- The 1 Second Film
Further reading and listening
- (4 June 2014) Sarbanes, Janet. A Community of Artists: Radical Pedagogy at CalArts, 1969-72
- The Futureâs So Bright? Talking Debt with CalArts Design Grads
- (7 August 2012) Sarbanes, Janet. A School Based on What Artists Wanted to Do: Alison Knowles on CalArts
- (1970) California Institute of the Arts: prologue to a community, Art in society; v.7,no. 3. Madison, Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press.
- Hedrick, Donald. King Lear Or Bolt: The Entertainment Unconscious from Calarts to Disney (Forum: After Shakespeare on Film) (Essay)
- Eklund, Douglas. (May 26, 2009) The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984 . Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Thornton, Sarah. (November 3, 2008) Seven Days in the Art World. W. W. Norton & Company
- Hertz, Richard.(November 30, 2003) Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia. Minneola Press.
- Adler, Judith E. (April 18, 2003) Artists in Offices: An Ethnography of an Academic Art Scene. Transaction Publishers.
- Payne, Burt. (January 1, 1995) The World Is Getting to Be a Funner Place: How I Applied to Calarts Under Four Aliases and Was Accepted or Denied. Dryhouse Books.
- Brooks, Iris. (December 30, 1999) New Music Across America. Distributed Art Pub Inc.
- Perine, Robert. (July 1986) Chouinard: An Art Vision BetrayedÂ : The Story of the Chouinard Art Institute, 1921-1972. Artra Pub
- Schapiro, Miriam. (1974) Anonymous Was a Woman: a Documentation of the Women's Art Festival: a Collection of Letters to Young Women Artists. The Feminist Art Program, California Institute of the Arts.
- Stein, Maurie and Miller, Larry. (1970) Blueprint for Counter Education. New York: Doubleday.
- Economic Research Associates. "A historical Summary of Cal Arts," July 13, 1967.
- Real, James. "When You Wish Upon A School" in West.1972
- The Institute of Words & Picture
- Sunshine Muse: Art on the West Coast, 1945-1970 By Peter Plagens
- Guide to the California Institute of the Arts Archive
- John Kesley Architect-photo
- Campaign for Calarts brochure
- Portrait Of An Art School In Ferment Los Angeles Times article, May 4, 1986.
- LOS ANGELES TIMES INTERVIEWÂ : Steven LavineÂ : At CalArts: Inventing the Art of the Future Today March 05, 1995
- Stephen Nowlin interview: Regarding the Calarts Design School 1970-75
- The Day They Purged Maurice Stein
- In Computer Age, College Prefers Personal Touch
- Clayton Alexander, Inventor, CalArts Alumni
- Hodgetts, Craig, "Biography of a Teaching Machine", Art Forum, Vol. XIII NO. 1, 61-65 (September 1973).
- WOMANHOUSE: Cradle of Feminist Art by Sandra Sider
- Interview with Sheila de Bretteville, Co-Founder, Woman's Building
- FDA synopsis of Modular Theater
- CalArts' theater description
- The Politics of Culture: Budget Cuts to Higher Education (June 30, 2009)
- The Politics of Culture: The REDCAT Theater (Nov. 11, 2003)
- The Politics of Culture: CALARTS (April 18, 2000)
- The Politics of Culture: Steve Lavine (May 6, 1997)
- official California Institute of the Arts website
- 24700 - The Official CalArts blog
- CalArts CommonSpace
- CalArts Photos
- California Institute of the Arts Archive
- The CalArts Eye
- East of Borneo online magazine
- Unforgetting L.A.