By Hayden Seder
Nothing is more synonymous with the art culture of Ketchum than the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. With its constant rotation of art exhibitions, music, lectures and workshops, educational outreach and more, it has a presence in every part of the Valley in every aspect of art, serving more than 40,000 patrons every year. The Center, as it’s known to locals, was founded in 1971 making it the oldest arts organization in the Wood River Valley and the largest in the state of Idaho.
The Center has a long and storied history in Ketchum with the original campus of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities (as it was originally called) established on land deed by Bill Janss, owner of Sun Valley Company from 1964 to 1977. The property that is now home to the Sun Valley Community School was the original home of The Center; before that, it was the site of kennels for the Sun Valley Resort’s sled dogs. The Center has always provided a well-rounded experience of the arts, even in the early days offering art exhibitions, classes in photography, printmaking and ceramics, dance and theater workshops, and conferences. With the Janss Corporation’s interest in developing a year-round resort, creating year-round, varied arts programming fit into the goal of attracting second homeowners to the area.
Over the years, The Center has morphed into the cornerstone of the Valley’s art scene that we know it as. The Center offers exceptional year-round programming in music, film, visual arts, the humanities and Company of Foolsprofessional theatre and is also accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Just 5% of all museums in the U.S. (including four other museums in Idaho) earn AAM accreditation.
The Center produces a rotation of exciting art exhibitions throughout the year including their unique, multidisciplinary “BIG IDEA” program. The directors of The Center’s visual arts, theatre, performing arts, education and humanities programs work in tandem with the Artistic Director to develop three or four BIG IDEA projects each year that explore timely themes and topics from a variety of perspectives. Recent BIG IDEA topics include biodiversity, the brain, Tibetan art and culture, the meaning of gender in the 21st century, Rock & Roll, fairytales and water.
Both The Center in Ketchum and The Center in Hailey showcase five to six visual arts exhibitions a year with nationally- and internationally-known artists. They also participate in the Sun Valley Gallery Association’s monthly gallery walks and offer monthly evening exhibitions tours with curators and gallery guides (and often, wine!)
Education and Humanities
Perhaps the area that The Center dedicates the most time and programming to is education. This includes lectures, classes and workshops for all ages, working with the local schools and numerous scholarship opportunities.
The Center’s annual lecture series offers talks from acclaimed authors to panel discussions on timely topics to art history lectures and more. Adult classes and workshops in both the visual arts and humanities are taught on a monthly basis on topics such as figure drawing, photography, and more. Week-long visual art camps are available for grade school students and teens in many of the same mediums and The Center hosts multiple free Family Days where families have the chance to visit the museum space as well as create an art projects associated with the current exhibition’s theme.
Bringing arts education to the schools is also a big part of The Center’s programming. Their district-wide school outreach programs include student exhibition tours of museum exhibitions, professional artist residencies that bring artists into classrooms, classroom enrichment that integrates art into secondary core curriculum, Company of Fools Stages of Wonder which explores creativity through theatrical arts, and student matinees with Company of Fools. The Center’s K-12 programs impact an average of 7,000 student participants in the Wood River Valley.
All student programs are offered for free or at a very low cost to students thanks to members, donors, and funds from the annual Wine Auction fundraiser. Center programs are also supported by public funding for the arts through the Idaho Commission on the Arts, the Idaho Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Another way The Center impacts students is through their extensive scholarship program, awarded to local students and educators to further their education in the arts and humanities through five different types of scholarships: the Wendy and Alan Pesky Educator Scholarship (for educators), the Ezra Pound Scholarship, the Jack Thornton Memorial Scholarship for the Performing Arts, High School Art and Humanities Scholarships, and the Gay V. Weake Scholarship for college students.
Performance & Film
The Center is committed to bringing world-class music, dance, and film to the Valley. Both the Winter and Summer Concert Series offer the community the chance to see nationally- and regionally-known musicians. Past performances have included The Head & the Heart, Shovels and Rope, Lord Huron, Pink Martini, and Emmy Lou Harris.
The Center’s film program includes films that explore topics being explored in The Center’s BIG IDEA projects.
Company of Fools Theatre
The Center and Company of Fools Theatre in November 2012, a perfect fit for two organizations dedicated to bringing the arts to the Wood River Valley. Company of Fools was founded in 1992 and since then have produced four mainstage productions per year as well as a play reading series at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey. They also periodically provide theatre arts education programming for the community and each of their productions has a special “pay-what-you-feel” night, lest anyone miss a production due to lack of funds.
Started 38 years ago, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts Wine Auction is the organization’s annual fundraiser to continue to support arts programming in the Valley. The three-day summer event includes vintner dinners, a gala, and a Vine & Dine lawn party, all celebrating wine with the funds going to a good cause.