“What a thrill to be in paradise,” Pam Jordan said sitting in her office on the Idyllwild Arts campus across from the construction site of the William M. Lowman Concert Hall. “It’s everything I hoped for and much more. Christopher and I love living in Idyllwild. I thought we would, but I didn’t know how much we would.”
Jordan just completed her first year as president of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation. She and her husband Christopher Scott moved here from Chicago, where she headed the Chicago Academy for the Arts for 23 years.
Besides leading one of the premier art boarding schools in the nation, she and Christopher found a new home and much to do here during this year.
“It’s great immersing ourselves in the community,” she continued. For example, he has just finished his training to be a Forest Service lookout volunteer and has joined the Idyllwild Rotary.
But responsibility for more than 250 students, a summer program of thousands and a multi-million dollar organization still requires much of her time. On the day of this interview, she had spent the morning with a Public Television crew, which was filming an episode for “In America with James Earl Jones”.
While dealing with the demands of running the school, Jordan’s perspective reaches beyond the campus boundary. “The greatest lesson, I’ve learned since being here is ‘being here’ is about community,” she said with a beaming grin.
During the year, Jordan devoted significant time to learning about the academy, the summer program, the staff and Idyllwild. She invested hundreds of hours meeting with more than 150 individuals one-on-one. Not only did she introduce herself, she gained a valuable and diverse outlook about the community, the school, its programs and history.
And one of her insights was a better sense of the founders, from the Krones to Bill Lowman and others. “It was about community,” she noted.
Going forward, Jordan stressed the need to remain focused on the school and its contribution to community — both large and small. But that does not simply mean continuing the same things. “The world changes and we change, too,” she emphasized. “Fifty years ago, we were just a summer program, then the boarding school was added.”
In the fall, after the school year begins, Idyllwild Arts will begin developing a strategic plan, she said. This process will involve the staff, the governing boards and trustees, parents, teachers and others.
“We’ll examine who we are and how to move forward,” she stated. The guiding vision will be “joining together to ensure the institution is one, not split, in order to change lives through the transformative power of art.”
While other art institutes may claim this idea, Jordan stressed that Idyllwild Arts Foundation is unique in its level of excellence, its location, and people or community. After all of her conversations, Jordan believes this vision also reflects the thoughts of Max and Bea Krone.
“It’s why they came to Idyllwild and what they wanted. It is what makes us truly unique as an art institution. Idyllwild is in the pines and in the San Jacinto Mountains. So what does it allow us to do differently?” she asked. “The quality of education and purpose will stand the test of time. We can’t get hung up on how we execute the program.”
To maintain its stature as a leading arts educational institution, IA will have to continue to attract a talented student body and outstanding faculty. One step, which Jordan envisions will foster this, is a center of teaching and learning. “This will support our faculty — both summer and the academy. We want to treat them as life-time learners,” she said
Eventually a center for creativity would complement the teaching center. “It will help address ‘What does it mean to engage in the creative process? How do we highlight that experience for students?’” she said.
While the arts will be the foundation, ‘creativity’ is the goal. “We need to underscore how a young person can use it in their adventure of life. We can’t do it alone,” she said and returned to the school’s connection to a broader community.
To Jordan, the Idyllwild Arts community extends from Idyllwild to Palm Springs to the coast, including the entertainment capital of the world — Los Angeles.
“Idyllwild can be a laboratory to discover with its access to the best professional entertainment world in U.S,” she said with enthusiasm. “Idyllwild is in a unique position to put our students in front of, not just master teaching faculty, but take them to Los Angeles, Palm Springs and film fests. They can see from the masters and how they create or innovate. Then do it and then spend time in laboratory dissecting it.”
As an example of the breadth of the IA community, she mentioned the various panelists at the Art and Society Symposium this year. “I was completely impressed by the people on the panels. And they said ‘Yes’ because of their relationship with people here. They came just because we called, and we can do this representing Idyllwild Arts.”
With the numerous and diverse opportunities at the school’s periphery, Jordan wants to “fundamentally change how we’re seen around the world,” and includes adapting the school to the world. “Arts education creates more [life] opportunities [for our students] not limiting them. Our community will admire the value and power of art.”
But the future is not defined by just what “community” contributes to IA. Jordan acknowledged that the school must always be mindful and never lose sight of its role in community. “Idyllwild Arts has to do and should be expected to do whatever is necessary to be part of the community,” she emphasized and reflected on the joint opportunities between IA and the Art Alliance that might be possible in the future.
“I hope most of all people think my leadership is inspiring. I want people to say ‘When she was here she inspired me!’” was her answer to how she will be remembered for her contribution to IA. “I’ve been in arts administration for nearly 25 years. I’ve never been the smartest, but what I’ve accomplished came from collaboration. We’re greater when we build together.”