Idyllwild Arts’ future is her destination

“I still feel new. Every day I’m learning,” said Pam Jordan, beginning her fifth year as president and head of school of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation. “I feel very much in service to this school and town, and looking at it through that lens. I can only lead the school where it naturally wants to go.”

Pam Jordan, president of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation and head of school wearing her new badge.
Photo by JP Crumrine

Idyllwild Arts is in its eighth decade. Jordan respects the goals of IA’s founders Max and Betty Krone, but the Cold War is history, as are the Carter and Reagan years. She admires former President Bill Lowman. He took IA to another level and much of the infrastructure and philosophy germinate during his tenure, but a generation of students has grown up after 9/11.

When she drives down Tollgate Drive and enters the campus, she is thinking really big things, such as, “How do I bring the financial resources to this school to support the vision for the future? How do I raise the profile of the school?”

But, as she said, “I was brought here for change.” It’s the 21st century and that is the steppingstone guiding her efforts.

The board has set the goals and vision. Jordan is implementing these hopes and dreams. And importantly, she is a model of a modern manager. She does a lot, including traveling about 40 percent of the time, but admits she can’t and won’t do it all.

“I work with the board on the Strategic Plan, the 21st century side and fundraising,” she said.

“You accomplish the things you do because of the people you work with,” she admits. That’s why she appointed the first Assistant Head of School Marianne Kent-Stoll.

She is grateful and full of praise for the staff and administration, who carry out these plans. “We have great people — teachers, department heads and admin. My job is to support and empower them.”

Just a month ago, one of the worst fires on the Hill came to the school’s doors. Jordan was in Europe on a long-planned vacation. She could not do anything, but she knew the staff had planned for emergencies and trained. Although she was in constant contact with staff, it was their responsibility to evacuate the campus quickly and safely. Even the newest staff, the health director, knew how to lead summer students to transportation.

Yet she recognizes that some people have a harder time embracing change. So, she strives to make them comfortable with differences, to feel heard and to be involved.

The Strategic Plan is the map for the board and Jordan. While this is the third year since its approval, it is flexible and adaptable. This past spring, the school hired a consultant to hold meetings with the local community. This feedback, from residents, but not related to the school, has been valuable and is being incorporated into the plan so that the school and town complement each other.

“Our vision is to be a leader in 21st-century education,” she said. The plan is a guide for learning as a community, and using that new knowledge to inform and to adjust the teaching concepts.

Advancing and improving the staff, the curriculum, the grounds, the budget and Idyllwild, itself, are all within Jordan’s vision.

Change takes many forms. Last year, the photography lab was renovated.

This year, campus safety is an immediate goal. As this school year begins, Idyllwild Arts is implementing a badge system. Students and staff will have badges with them at all times on campus. This new security measure is one of several underway — deference to the 21st century.

“Safety, I never think it’s enough,” she lamented. “When evil happens somewhere [such as Parkland, Florida] it’s another reminder.”

Expanding campus housing for the teaching staff is a priority in order to keep and attract the best educators.

This fall, the film department added two new courses — virtual reality and game design — as well as more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). Game design is not about how to play better, but incorporates and integrates art and creativity, storytelling, with math and computer science. This is an example of bringing the 21st-century education to the Idyllwild Arts campus.

“Young people have to be very flexible and adaptable to manage through our world,” Jordan said. “21st-century education is the ability to be creative. Idyllwild Arts’ real emphasis is on the citizen artist. Our mission today is the transformative process of art, which is not an end game.”

One measure of the school’s change and how the world has embraced it is the current enrollment. This academic year, 2018-19, the school’s enrollment is 318 students, the highest ever. There are 60 freshmen, only the second time the school has reached this level. Students are from 36 countries, 29 states, and there are more day students this year, according to Tara Dutton Sechrest (class of 1994), director of Enrollment Management.

This diversity is an attribute, Jordan noted. “We strive to live in harmony in tune with the world. Art has a lot to do with the challenge of assumptions. Artists understand how much communication conveys.”

Communication is an important tool for Jordan. The community sessions not only gleaned perceptions from residents, but they are the basis for sharing ideas with them.

“I feel very strongly about the vision. I see it clearly. I came here for change because I was willing and it’s what a leader has to do,” she said.

And Jazz in the Pines is one subject in which both the school and local communities feel vested. IA has already announced that the 26th-annual festival will not be in 2019. But Jordan does not envision an end to the event.

“I’m really excited about the possibility of what jazz can be in 2020,” she said. Emphasizing her reliance on communication, she added that she has monthly phone meetings with many of the jazz musicians about the festival’s future. The festival is just one of the areas at the school where Jordan sees the potential for change and improvement.

“We have 100 students in our summer jazz program and they never get to engage with the professionals! Jazz in the Pines can happen throughout the year here and culminate with a festival,” she opined. “We want to make sure the next 25 years serve the students and the community.

“I do enjoy the work. It’s not easy, but I have such joy in the job,” she concluded, admitting she does not miss Chicago.