CalArts is the premier arts school perched on top of the hill at McBean Parkway and the east side of I-5. It has been there since 1970 when this campus first opened. It was the evolution of the Chouinard Art Institute, the L.A. Conservatory, and the vision of Walt Disney, which was completed by his brother Roy O. Disney. An institution made up of the arts disciplines of dance, music, film, art, theater, and writing that allowed and encouraged crosspollination. The mission statement is, “CalArts teaches artists to develop the skills and personal drive to reach their creative potential, question received ideas and expand forms of knowledge and experience in the world. CalArts challenges artists to create work that matters globally to the state of culture today and in the future.”
In the forty-seven years since the campus in the Santa Clarita Valley opened, it has produced a who’s who of the visual and performing arts. Filmmakers like Tim Burton, Brad Bird, James Mangold, Henry Selick are among many others that graduated from the CalArts Film School. Dancers from CalArts have gone onto major dance companies around the world. Charlie Haden, the great jazz bassist, founded the Jazz Program at CalArts School of Music. Artists like Ross Bleckner, Lari Pittman, Laura Owens, David Salle and many others have their artworks in major international art museum and private collections. The list goes on with CalArts alumni receiving MacArthur Genius Fellowships, other prestigious grants and recognitions, and publishing books, music, and poetry.
On the financial side, CalArts has 366 faculty members and more than 1400 students representing 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 48 countries. These individuals contribute more than $35 million dollars to the local economy every year. My figure may be on the low side since it is a number of years old and is likely to be much more. Only 409 students live on campus with the many of the rest living in and around the Santa Clarita Valley. Of the more than 17,000 alumni, over 700 have made the local area there home. In other words, CalArts has a massive impact on the local economy.
CalArts consistently is at the top of many college rankings. It ranks in the top five animation programs in North America, typically number one or number two depending on the year. The CalArts School of Art ranks in the top ten of art schools nationally. It is a top-ranking school of the arts and one that only accepts students based solely on talent.
There is no question that CalArts is a world-renowned art institution that has a stellar list of alumni and contributes millions to the local economy. So, when I attended the City of Santa Clarita’s State of the City luncheon celebrating its 30th Anniversary as an incorporated city there was not one mention of this school—not an utterance, nor photo, or even a hint that the city has such a luminous arts institution within its boundaries. Nothing, zip, zero—no mention whatsoever.
It highlighted the cultural and political backwardness of the City of Santa Clarita. The city needs to embrace the diversity of its residents as well as the institutions that are within its borders. Not even mentioning a major internationally known art school like CalArts is a reprehensible oversite on the part of the city leadership, which should be celebrating all the attributes that contribute to making the city and the Santa Clarita Valley a great place to live.