Pamela Jordan, president of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation. Photo by J.P. Crumrine
Pamela Jordan, president of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation. Photo by J.P. Crumrine

The new president of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation, Pamela Jordan, is from Chicago. She comes here familiar with the campus and town and prepared to lead the institution forward in the 21st century.

After 23 years at the Chicago Academy of the Arts, Jordan decided it was time for someone else to guide her child, time for change in her life. Then Idyllwild Arts announced its search for a new president.

“There are only four independent high schools for the arts in the country. Three are boarding schools and the other, Chicago Academy of the Arts, is a day school, where she was the head,” said Bill Lowman, former President of Idyllwild Arts Academy who retired in 2011. “She comes with a lot of experience in independent art schools.”

This was the only job she has ever sought since she joined the Chicago school in the early 1990s and she brings a wealth of experience — not only in leadership and leadership in arts education, but international experience and a broad network of connections throughout the U.S.

“I knew her from the board of the Arts Schools Netwark, she is reputable leader,” Lowman said. “She is terrific and just right for here.”

When she left Chicago, the trustees were so grateful and appreciative of her contributions to the school’s maturation they bestowed the Kupcinet Civic Award on her. This award is named after one of the original founders of the Chicago Academy and is given to individuals who strive to positively affect and develop the Chicago arts community. Demonstrating the esteem in which she is held, 23 alumni took part in the presentation.

“When Idyllwild Arts Foundation began their search for a new president, the board sought input from faculty and staff as well as other constituents.  We concluded we had a strong management team in place but needed a leader with a proven track record who could help us look to the future,” wrote Jeffery Dvorak, chair of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation Board of Trustees. “We believe Pamela is uniquely qualified to do this.  She is recognized as a leader in various independent school organizations and has already brought a number of her fellow leaders to Idyllwild to talk about the importance of arts education.”

The Chicago school was founded in 1981 — younger than the Idyllwild academy. Jordan has guided much of its growth and prominence. In 2013, the Chicago school received the Kennedy Center’s School of Distinction Award. During this time, she has connected with and shared experiences with the leaders of other art schools, since they have common and unique responsibilities.

Knowing former Idyllwild Arts President Bill Lowman has influenced her own growth. “I listened to his passion about art education. It was an epiphany when he retired,” she said.

With alumni in Los Angeles and trustees in Palm Springs, trips to California were not uncommon. Often she would leave Interstate 10 to stop at Idyllwild Arts, she said.

When she announced her intent to leave Chicago, she told a trustee, “… I love [Chicago] so much. I’ve been here all my life.” He was empathetic and told her she would “fall in love again.”

“He was right, I fell in love all over again,” she said about her brief time already at the Idyllwild academy. Here she oversees a boarding school with a very diverse student and faculty community. Describing Idyllwild as isolated is a mistake, she stressed.

“Idyllwild is a destination. You’re here because of a choice,” she emphasized. “Coming to Idyllwild Arts is a conscious decision … [which] creates and fosters a lifestyle.”

Even the participants in the Summer Programs are not passing through Idyllwild Arts, they’re coming here, Jordan stressed. Arts-dedicated schools are sprouting up all over the world. Jordan helped develop one in Singapore.

“There’s nothing like coming here and expanding one’s experience with art and art making,” she said. “But I want [the school] to be better known. I want people to know it’s the place to come to make art and to make meaning.”

When Max and Bea Krone founded the school, they had other choices. “Why did they choose here?” Jordan asked. “I want to know why they chose Idyllwild and I want to know the town of Idyllwild. It’s integral to these choices.”

Although education was not her original career choice, she comes from a long line of educators, including a mother, who ensured each of her children could play the piano. So she is aware of the expectations associated with the choice to be at Idyllwild Arts and the responsibility of leading an educational institution, especially an arts school.

“One of her top priorities during the next year or so will be to lead us through a strategic planning process that will establish a vision for the future of Idyllwild Arts Foundation and provide a road map to help us achieve that vision,” Dvorak said.

“Nothing in our mission says, ‘We will tell you when you’re an artist.’ Twelve-year-olds must believe that before they come,” she said. And over the next two years, she plans to lead a strategic planning process to better articulate IA’s purpose and path. As president, Jordan plans to move IA into its next chapter. “We’ll have a shared vision that’s both aspirational and inspirational in nature.”

Jordan’s background extends beyond the walls of academia. She studied music and spent a year in Austria training to become an opera singer. But eventually, the desire to build and lead an arts school prevailed.

“I stopped singing 10 years ago,” she stated. When she commits, she invests fully in the opportunity; consequently, she did not have the time to maintain the quality of singing she possessed. “If you can’t sustain it, you’ll walk away. It’s an option because you’re good enough to do that,” she explained.

Now Idyllwild Arts Academy is the focus of her attention, but her devotion is also shared with her husband, Christopher Scott, a former trombonist with the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra.

Now a fundraiser, he is devoting “this year to support me in this role,” Jordan said with a smile.