Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of a two-part series about the career of Idyllwild Arts (IA) President and Headmaster William M. “Bill” Lowman, who is retiring after 25 years at the helm of IA. Brian Cohen officially assumes the presidency on July 1.
Early challenges, finding solutions
Lowman explained that building excellence in each of the academy’s arts discipline required spending more money. “If I bring in an oboe player to better the orchestra, I need to spend more to ensure that player’s growth and development for that instrument,” he explained. “We would not have become who we are if we had not lived beyond our means [in the early years].”
He explained how, in the early years, new challenges appeared almost daily that required rethinking short and long-term strategies. One important issue was finding the money to fund scholarships in order to attract talented U.S. students who had their pick of more established schools while, at the same time, attracting others who could pay. Consequently, Lowman adopted a strategy to recruit Asian students whose families could afford the school’s tuition and who wanted the distinction of a U.S. arts education for their children. One need gave rise to a successful strategy.
About the time Dr. Richard MacNeal (of MacNeal Schwendler Software corporation) ceased funding the school in 1992, other investors began to notice IA because of its growing reputation for artistic excellence. “By 1989 and 1990 we started sending kids to Juilliard [School, in New York City],” said Lowman. “Academic studies of arts institutions began to mention us favorably. I went out searching [for strategic partnerships] and with the involvement of the Pierson Lovelace Foundation, we had access to Harvard-trained managerial consultants who helped us develop the blueprint to continue forward,” said Lowman. “We’re now in the best shape we’ve been in years. We have a plan for capital improvements, with challenge grants, awaiting master plan approval. Brian [Cohen] will bring his own background and personality and his commitment to green development. I feel very optimistic.”
Lowman leaves an institution that is built in large part on his years of forging strategic partnerships, taking calculated risks and promoting the Idyllwild Arts’ mission to donors and investors. IA is the largest private employer in Idyllwild and one of only three high school arts boarding schools in the country. Its graduates attend some of the county’s most prestigious conservatories and universities.
Lowman said he is most proud of the distinction IA’s graduates have achieved in the world. “We’ve had the opportunity to change people’s lives for the better,” he said. “What we’ve done here proves commitment does matter. What I am most joyful about is that I came to a place I loved at a time when my skills matched this institutions’ needs. Now, I am looking forward to living in our town and watching the school develop under new leadership.”
IA Board of Governors Chair Faith Raiguel who, like Lowman, came to ISOMATA’s Summer Program as a singer in the 1960s, and has known Lowman throughout his leadership of Idyllwild Arts, said of his of his qualifications and commitment to the school, “He had both the personality and the skills and charisma to make people believe in the vision [for developing Idyllwild Arts]. He kept his eye on the mission and let the naysayers fall away.” Of the transition to new leadership, she noted,” Bill handled himself as such an extraordinary gentleman and consummate professional. He was not involved in the selection process until the interviews with the final three candidates. He said he did not want to be involved until then in order to protect the process.” And about his decision to leave, she said, “He loves the institution beyond it being a reflection of himself.”
In his 2010 letter notifying the IAF board of his intention to resign, Lowman said, “William James wrote that, ‘the greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.’ I depart knowing this to be true and am confident that Idyllwild Arts Academy and Idyllwild Arts Summer Program will continue to shine as beacons of excellence in arts education for many, many years to come.”