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Above is a short film titled The CalArts Story, made in 1964 by Walt Disney Productions about the founding vision of California Institute of the Arts. Walt Disney first presented this film at the Hollywood premiere of Mary Poppins. Uploaded with permission.

Today, California Institute of the Arts houses six schools—Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater—and offers internationally acclaimed degree programs across the range of visual, performing, media, and literary arts. CalArts also operates the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex located in downtown Los Angeles, and leads the county-wide Community Arts Partnership (CAP) youth arts education program. Following is an account of CalArts’ history over more than five decades.


Walt Disney develops plans for a new school for the performing and visual arts where different creative disciplines come together under one roof, inspiring and elevating each other.


Walt Disney and his brother, Roy O. Disney, guide the merger of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, founded in 1883, and the Chouinard Art Institute, founded in 1921, to form California Institute of the Arts. The Disney brothers are joined in this undertaking by Lulu May Von Hagen, chair of the Conservatory.


The Institute—dubbed "CalArts," following the example of "Caltech"—is introduced to the public by Walt Disney at the Hollywood premiere of Mary Poppins. He envisions a campus in the hills overlooking Hollywood's Cahuenga Pass.


Following Walt Disney's death, his plans for CalArts proceed with the support of the Disney family and other benefactors.


Robert W. Corrigan, dean of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, is appointed president. Herbert Blau, co-director of the Lincoln Center Repertory Company, is named provost. Blau leads the way in designing a radical educational model that favors independent artistic work over rigid curricula, collegial relationships among a community of artists over hierarchies of teacher and student, and continuous interaction among the different branches of the arts over the self-containment of each discipline. CalArts will go on to uphold these core values throughout its subsequent history.


Corrigan and Blau assemble a high-powered faculty by recruiting some of the most innovative and unorthodox voices in the arts. This new faculty includes now-iconic figures such as artists Allan Kaprow, John Baldessari and Nam June Paik, composers Mel Powell and Morton Subotnick, sitar master Ravi Shankar; ethnomusicologist Nicholas England, designers Peter and Sheila DeBretteville, choreographer Bella Lewitzky, director Alexander Mackendrick, film scholar Gene Youngblood, experimental filmmaker Pat O'Neill, and animation artist Jules Engel.

After the site of the new campus is moved north to Valencia, 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, construction begins on a complex centered around a sprawling five-level, 500,000-square-foot building.

CalArts accepts its first students.


The brand-new institute's first academic year, 1970—71, begins at an interim campus at Villa Cabrini in Burbank. CalArts offers degree programs through six schools: Art, Critical Studies, Design, Film, Music, and Theater & Dance.


As some classes move to the Valencia campus during the spring semester, the Sylmar Earthquake strikes. CalArts is spared from major damages.

In the fall semester, the permanent campus opens in full, welcoming more than 650 students.

Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro start the Feminist Art Program—the first such course of study in American higher education. Students include Suzanne Lacy and Faith Wilding. Its counterpart is the Women's Design Program, headed by Sheila DeBretteville.


Following the earlier departure of Robert Corrigan, Robert J. Fitzpatrick, professor of medieval French literature and dean of students at Johns Hopkins University, is named president of CalArts.

1970s »

OVERVIEW: CalArts quickly establishes itself as a hotbed of experimentalism, shaping new forms from video art to computer music. The first wave of School of Art grads—David Salle, Jack Goldstein, Ross Bleckner and Matt Mullican—bursts onto the New York art scene as the so-called "CalArts Mafia." Guided by a faculty led by Baldessari, Michael Asher and Douglas Huebler, more influential artists emerge from CalArts throughout the decade, among them Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler and Lari Pittman. The School of Music is recognized as a center for composition and world music performance, while the School of Film/Video, after pioneering optical effects and computer film graphics, becomes a platform for transformative figures in story animation—Glen Keane, John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Tim Burton, Henry Selick and others. Early School of Theater alums, meanwhile, include Ed Harris, Katey Sagal, Paul Reubens and Bill Irwin.


The CalArts Jazz Program is founded by bassist Charlie Haden, of Ornette Coleman Quartet fame, and pianist David Roitstein. Within a decade, CalArts alumni take the jazz scene by storm.


President Robert Fitzpatrick serves as director of the hugely successful Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival, held just before the Olympic Games. The unprecedented arts showcase features more than 400 performances by artists from around the globe, emphasizing experimental and avant-garde work. The landmark festival creates enduring links between L.A. and international art and performance communities, who come to view the city as an emerging center for contemporary arts.


Robert Fitzpatrick resigns as president to head Euro Disney in Paris.


CalArts begins hosting the state-funded California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA), designed to nurture talented high school students in visual art, film, animation, writing, music, theater and dance. The CSSSA program continues to this day.


Steven D. Lavine, associate director for arts and humanities at the Rockefeller Foundation, becomes president of CalArts.

1980s »

OVERVIEW: A new generation takes center stage at the School of Art, with figures such as Carrie Mae Weems, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Liz Larner, Meg Cranston, Larry Johnson, Richard Hawkins and Catherine Opie. The Program in Graphic Design is reinvigorated with the arrival of new faculty: first April Greiman and subsequently Lorraine Wild and Ed Fella. CalArts animators, meanwhile, take up key positions in the then-stagnant industry and soon spearhead the "Disney Renaissance" with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. For his part, John Lasseter leads the development of the first computer-generated animated films at the fledging studio Pixar, at the time headed by Steve Jobs. Notable music alumni include composer Art Jarvinen, conductor Rand Steiger, oboist Libby van Cleve and music technologist Peter Otto, while School of Theater graduates include actor Don Cheadle and lighting and scene designer Kevin Adams.


CalArts launches the Community Arts Partnership (CAP), a youth arts education program that links the Institute with community arts organizations and, later, public schools across Los Angeles County. CAP's first partners are Plaza de la Raza and the Watts Towers Arts Center. By 2014, CAP offers dozens of free arts education programs to underserved youth between the ages of 6 and 18, altogether numbering more than 250,000 over 25 years.

CalArts and Capitol Records—EMI begin what becomes a yearly fixture: the production of a CD of original works by students in the Jazz Program, recorded at the legendary Capitol Studios in Hollywood. The annual CD will go on to jumpstart the careers of numerous Jazz Program students.


Founding dean Alexander Mackendrick and Louis Florimonte of the School of Film/Video launch the graduate Directing for Theater, Video and Cinema Program, which later becomes the Film Directing Program. This course of study focuses on dramatic storytelling and narrative cinema.


The Institute sustains damages totaling more than $15 million during the Northridge Earthquake. In the aftermath, classes continue in trailers and off-campus sites during the spring semester. Major reconstruction on campus is completed ahead of the fall semester.


The School of Critical Studies now offers the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree program—the school's first—in creative writing.

At Pixar Animation Studios, John Lasseter and several other CalArts graduates usher in the era of 3D computer animation with the landmark film Toy Story. Pixar—which is eventually bought by Disney in 2006—goes on to achieve unprecedented critical and commercial success. Following the rise of Pixar and the ever-growing prevalence of 3D animation techniques across the spheres of culture, technology and business, CalArts—the erstwhile "Mickey Mouse U."—is recast as the "School of Pixar" and, more recently, the "Harvard Business School of Animation."

Iconic trumpeter and bandleader Herb Alpert teams with CalArts to establish the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts—five $50,000 fellowships given each year to "early mid-career" artists in the fields of dance, film/video, music, theater and visual art. The awards are administered by CalArts on behalf of The Herb Alpert Foundation. In 2007, the fellowship awards are raised to $75,000 each.


The Center for Integrated Media offers a supplemental concentration for MFA students who work with digital, interactive and participatory media across disciplines.


As plans take shape for the construction of the Frank O. Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, longtime benefactors Roy E. and Patty Disney provide initial funding for a separate CalArts performance space and gallery: the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT), so named in memory of Roy E. Disney's parents. The venue would at last give the Institute a presence in the heart of the city—as originally intended by Walt Disney.


The Institute inaugurates the Center for New Theater as the professional producing arm of the School of Theater. It debuts with Bad Behavior by Richard Foreman and Sophie Haviland.

1990s »

OVERVIEW: Yet more School of Art graduates bring new directions to the international art and design scene: artists Sam Durant, Mark Bradford, Laura Owens and Monique Prieto, and designers Geoff McFetridge, Denise Gonzales Crisp and Jonathan Notaro. Emerging choreographers include Laura Gorenstein Miller, Kate Weare and Luciana Achugar. Steve Kandell, Steven Knezevich and Joy Gregory are among the first graduates of the MFA Writing Program. Experimental filmmakers include Rodney Evans, William E. Jones, Deborah Stratman and Naomi Uman. Animation powerhouses include Stephen Hillenburg, Craig McCracken and Genndy Tartakovsky. Ravi Coltrane, Ralph Alessi, Peter Epstein and Mike Carney, among others, are the rising jazz players of this period. School of Theater grads include actors Hugo Armstrong, Mandy Freund and Michole Briana White, and directors Jessica Kubzansky, Michael Jung and Matt August. By decade's end, the Institute is operating a major youth arts education program in CAP and has laid the groundwork for REDCAT—two initiatives that extend CalArts' commitment to the arts across the city and out into the wider world.


The School of Theater launches the MFA Writing for Performance Program, with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks as director.


An economic impact study shows that CalArts contributes more than $47 million each year to the economy of Southern California.


Mark Murphy is named executive director of REDCAT. Eungie Joo is appointed curator and director of the Gallery at REDCAT. The programming at CalArts' new downtown center for contemporary arts is divided into three parts: work by high-profile international artists, work by emerging Southern California-based artists, and work developed at CalArts. Many of the artists featured at REDCAT are to visit the Valencia campus to give lectures, lead workshops and conduct master classes.

The School of Art and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London join forces to publish the international art journal Afterall. This partnership continues until 2010.


REDCAT opens in November with a 24-hour gala celebration. The downtown venue's inaugural season continues through June 2004.


The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance is dedicated in memory of the longstanding CalArts benefactor, the late daughter of Walt Disney.

The MFA Creative Writing Program publishes the first issue of Black Clock, a literary journal edited by Steve Erickson. "Audacious rather than safe, visceral rather than academic," Black Clock proceeds to showcase new writing that is anthologized in best-of-the-year collections and nominated for O. Henry and Pushcart prizes; two excerpted novels win National Book Awards.

School of Theater students and faculty travel to Scotland to present work at the famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe. CalArts has since taken part in 10 consecutive editions of the fest.


CalArts becomes the first American film school honored with a full retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art. The three-month survey, Tomorrowland: CalArts in Moving Pictures, covers 35 years of student work.

The Center for New Theater expands into the CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP), a professional production entity that supports music, dance and interdisciplinary performance in addition to theater. Designed to involve students in the development of high-profile original works for the stage, the CNP also links CalArts with the wider professional community. Its premiere production at REDCAT is What to Wear, an experimental opera by Richard Foreman and Michael Gordon.


CalArts breaks ground for The Wild Beast, a variable-use, indoor-outdoor music pavilion. Designed by Hodgetts + Fung, the facility is named after composer Morton Feldman's metaphor for the ineffable generative force in art. The new performance and rehearsal space will allow the School of Music to better serve a growing student population and support an expanded curriculum.


CalArts inaugurates The Herb Alpert School of Music following an historic $15 million endowment gift from Herb and Lani Hall Alpert, who had already donated $10 million since the early 1990s. In conjunction with the naming of the school, CalArts announces its first-ever doctoral program: the Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) Performer-Composer Program.

The School of Critical Studies enrolls the first students in the one-year Master of Arts (MA) Aesthetics and Politics Program.

CalArts' Steven Lavine is the only college president to serve on Barack Obama's National Arts Policy Committee. As Obama later wins the 2008 presidential election, his administration becomes the first in history to enter office with a national arts policy. This policy emphasizes public-private youth arts education programs of the type exemplified by CalArts' Community Arts Partnership (CAP).


The third annual REDCAT Gala also marks the 20-year anniversary of Steven Lavine's tenure as Institute president.

REDCAT and The Wooster Group, the internationally celebrated performance ensemble, announce a multi-year partnership during which the Group will present work as a resident ensemble.

The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance launches The Next Dance Company, a resident ensemble that each year comprises the entire graduating class. The company's aim is to mirror the professional experiences students are likely to encounter after graduation.

Roy. E. Disney, the Institute's most ardent supporter over the years, dies at age 79.


OVERVIEW: The "aughts" bring accelerating globalization and rapid technological and cultural change. The CalArts student population grows more demographically diverse and international than at any point in the Institute's history. The prevailing economic landscape at the beginning and end of the decade compels many independent creative professionals to become more entrepreneurial and self-reliant, exemplified by the proliferation of artist-run collectives, many started by CalArts graduates. Other alums achieve breakthrough success in their chosen fields: artists Liz Glynn and Henry Taylor, shadow theater exponent Christine Marie, multimedia directors Chi-wang Yang and Lars Jan, actors Alison Brie, Eliza Coupe and Condola Rashad, dancers Jonathan Fredrickson, Dallas McMurray and Katie Diamond, designers Kim Dulaney, Hilary Greenbaum and Jae-Hyouk Sung, writers Allison Carter, Douglas Kearney, Anne-Marie Kinney and Grace Krilanovich, activist and West Hollywood City Councilmember John D'Amico, experimental filmmakers Robert Fenz and Natasha Mendonca, indie directors Mike Ott, David Fenster, Eliza Hittman and Tariq Tapa, television animation showrunners Alex Hirsch, J.G. Quintel and Pendleton Ward.


Already in use for months as a rehearsal space and classroom, the Wild Beast music pavilion is officially dedicated in the spring.

CAP celebrates its 20-year anniversary with a series of master classes across the city.

Reflecting its worldwide reach, CalArts announces the formation of the Office of International Relations to manage a growing list of global initiatives and partnerships.

In October, an alumni reunion, "Tomorrow Started Here," marks the 40th anniversary of the Institute. More than 700 alumni, faculty and current students attend.

The School of Art launches East of Borneo, a collaborative art journal and multimedia archive, directed by Dean Thomas Lawson.

The School of Art begins its two-year, MFA Art and Technology Program.


CalArts is named America's top college for students in the arts by Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

The Getty Foundation organizes Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A., 1945—1980, an unprecedented six-month-long series of exhibitions, screenings and performances presented in collaboration with more than 60 partners, among them CalArts. Scores of CalArts and Chouinard alumni and faculty—both current and former—are featured in the exhaustive survey. The School of Art's contribution is the exhibition The Experimental Impulse at REDCAT, which also hosts separate screenings curated by the School of Film/Video.

The Herb Alpert School of Music opens the Machine Lab, a research facility dedicated to the development of robotic musical instruments and new performer-computer interfaces.

REDCAT is one of the Los Angeles venues for the inaugural edition of the Radar L.A. international festival of theater.


The Herb Alpert School of Music organizes a festival to celebrate the centenary of John Cage—a frequent visitor on campus throughout the 1970s and '80s.

More than a third of the 60 artists featured in Made in L.A. 2012, the city's first-ever biennial, are associated with CalArts.

CalArts receives a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum for undergraduate students in the arts. The resulting arts-based approach to teaching computer science is designed by Ajay Kapur, associate dean of Research and Development in Digital Arts.

U.S. News & World Report ranks CalArts among the nation's best 10 grad schools for fine arts, photography, painting/drawing, sculpture, graphic design, and multimedia/visual communications.

The Institute enters the burgeoning field of open online learning as it provides non-credit portfolio development workshops for artists, animators and designers.

CalArts completes a new School of Art studio building—named in honor of founding faculty member John Baldessari.

The fall semester sees the international student population jump by 35 percent over the previous year.

A School of Film/Video study shows that feature films directed by alumni of CalArts' animation programs have generated $27 billion in worldwide box office grosses since 1985.


CalArts joins with online education leader Coursera to offer three "MOOCS"—massive, open online courses. The Institute is the only comprehensive arts college among Coursera's partners, which include Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Duke, Johns Hopkins and Caltech.

The Center for New Performance presents the conference "TEDxCalArts: Performance, Body & Presence" to explore the expanded field of "performance" in art, technology and politics.

REDCAT's annual spring gala kicks off a yearlong celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Institute's downtown center for contemporary arts—"the gold standard for the avant-garde in L.A.," according to The Huffington Post.

Based on surveys of arts and entertainment industry professionals, The Hollywood Reporter places CalArts among the top 5 film schools, the top 10 music schools, and the top 15 drama schools in the world.

CalArts offers a new interdisciplinary Digital Arts Minor for undergraduates.

The second Radar L.A. theater festival is presented by CalArts in association with Center Theatre Group and other partners at venues across the city, including REDCAT. On the program is a CalArts production of Prometheus Bound at the Getty Villa's outdoor amphitheater.


Vanity Fair magazine's annual "Hollywood issue" includes an in-depth look at the early years of the storied Program in Character Animation and the alumni who redefined the art of animation. The centerpiece of the feature is a tableau of the program's most illustrious alums, photographed on campus by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Last edited by vroveto on Aug 12, 2015
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