On August 31, we began online classes for the hundreds of IAA students who are located around the world. Teachers dedicated their summer months to improving the online experience for students and preparing lessons that would be challenging and engaging while also allowing them to operate at their own pace and have less screen time. As we approach the month of October, we turn our attention to the safe return of our students and the continued health and safety of our entire school community.
Having our students return to campus this year was extremely important to us. The impact of the global health pandemic, the civil unrest and economic challenges to communities already stressed, the current political climate, and widespread wildfires believed by many to be a result of climate change have shaped the year 2020 in ways that will unfold for decades. As young people return to school this fall, they do so against a backdrop once unimaginable. In secondary school education, we refer to times such as these as “teachable moments.”
I attended a webinar recently where the presenters encouraged young artists not to leave their creativity in the studio. This statement struck me, particularly because young people often first come to artmaking through the joy of studio projects, music lessons, and community plays. The ability to make art while also using one’s art to enact change is the power that every artist can come to know, but doing so is a journey.
Finding ways to move from powerlessness to empowerment is what citizen artists have been doing for centuries. Examples abound and include novelist and playwright James Baldwin, who gave us Notes of a Native Son, raising consciousness about issues of race and class; songstress Billie Holiday, whose rendition of “Strange Fruit” as a protest against lynchings was so important that she sang through the pain of her own father’s death after being denied medical treatment at a Texas “whites only” hospital to set the poem to music; and, of course, our very own artist, activist, and social entrepreneur Shepard Fairey, whose Hope poster for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign sparked a movement across our nation.
Joseph Polisi, former president of The Juilliard School, once said, “There should be no dividing line between artistic excellence and social consciousness.” Here at Idyllwild Arts we agree and have embraced this ethos for over seventy years. It is a privilege to work with and for young people. The hope and light that live within each of them are constant reminders that life can and will be better.