Matt Gray, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Innovation Lab, will moderate several listening sessions in town for the Idyllwild Arts Academy. Gray is a former Idyllwild School and Idyllwild Arts student.
Photo courtesy of Matt Gray

“Town and gown” is a common phrase describing the distinction between local residents, and the students and faculty of higher-level educational institutions located in the town. Issues and differences often arise between the two populations.

Almost from the beginning of the “town” of Idyllwild, the “gown” — the Idyllwild Arts Academy — has been present.

The late 1940s saw Idyllwild evolving into a town, not simply a few cabins and inns. The Idyllwild Fire Protection District was established in 1946. Ernie and Betty Maxwell begin publishing the Town Crier the same year. With property from the Johnson family, the community built Town Hall in 1946 and 1947. Among the other germinating enterprises during this period was the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, which Max and Bea Krone founded in 1946, too.

So, for more than 70 years the arts school and the mountain community have co-existed, grown and intermingled.

Beginning March 21, the school wants to hear from the community. A series of 45-minute “listening sessions” will be held at the Idyllwild Library and the Rainbow Inn. The times vary in order to accommodate different schedules. The first session begins noon Wednesday, March 21, and the 10th and last begins at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 29.

Moderating the sessions will be a former Idyllwild School student (1997) and 2001 graduate of Idyllwild Arts, Matt Gray. He is the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Innovation Lab in Denver, Colorado. Each session can handle about 20 to 25 people, but he is prepared to work with only 10 in a session.

He has organized and managed many of these sessions. “I use a couple of different approaches. The main point is to get lots of ideas and perspectives,” Gray said.

He might ask participants to describe the next step. The intent is to gather general ideas without a long response. Or, he might use a brief survey. Another option Gray mentioned was to go around the circle and talk with the group to elicit ideas.

“For the people, these procedures give them time to formulate and consider ideas to share in responses,” he stated.

He also has kept the length short to allow people to drop in and contribute without feeling the obligation to invest a lot.

The background for the listening sessions is the school’s recent Strategic Plan, adopted in 2016. It includes a new mission statement, a vision statement and six planning goal areas, said Pam Jordan, president and head of school for the Idyllwild Arts Foundation. “Although the new statement is broad (changing lives through the transformative power of art), it embodies the purpose of all IA programs and thus, a new statement was born. It also allows us to brand one institution, which creates better alignment between the Summer Youth program and the Academy.

“There was no vision statement in place before the new plan was adopted. I am excited about the vision statement, especially our desire to be a thriving leader in 21st Century education,” she added.

For those interested in reviewing the Idyllwild Arts Strategic Plan, it can be found on the school’s website at

These sessions will be an important contribution to the next plan, Jordan noted. “The listening forums will help us understand internal and external expectations and perceptions as they relate to our plans for the future. A revised plan will be put forth to the board in July 2018.”

The educational power of Idyllwild Arts’ program is not simply reflected in Gray’s return to campus to help with future planning. More importantly, he said that his career reflects what he learned at Idyllwild Arts.

“I learned to listen from Marshall Hawkins. In his jazz classes, he taught us the power of how I can listen as closely as possible and as many different ways to listen,” Gray said proudly.

After seven years of working for others and learning how they observe, he decided to put these talents to use on his own. Now he has the innovation lab and clients throughout the country.

He feels fortunate to return and to contribute to the school and community. “Idyllwild is a magical and special place in the midst of this world,” he added.

Click here to to sign up for a session.