Founded in 1971, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts is the oldest arts organization in Idaho’s Wood River Valley. The Center has grown from a few people presenting classes and events to an organization that serves more than 40,000 attendees every year (in a valley with a population of 22,000).
The original campus of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities was established on land deeded by the owner of Sun Valley Company, Bill Janss. The property consisted of six acres along Trail Creek that had formerly housed dog kennels for Sun Valley Resort. (The dogs were used for dog sledding for guests of the Union Pacific’s Sun Valley Resort. The property is now home to The Community School.) For several years, The Center flourished as a facility for an exceedingly high level of fine arts residencies.. Many of the participating artists and faculty have since gone on to achieve celebrated careers.
During the early years, the highly regarded faculty taught photography, printmaking and ceramics, and established the first art gallery in the Wood River Valley. Dance and theater workshops offered a broader arts experience than was previously available. Conferences held by the Institute of the American West attracted prominent historians and an audience hungry for knowledge of the Western experience. As a result of the Janss Corporation’s commitment to developing a year round resort and attracting second homeowners, an expanded community began to demand and support the programs offered by the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.
In the early 1980s, a decrease in federal funding for the arts found The Center examining its programmatic and financial responsibilities. After careful consideration, the Board of Directors chose to restructure The Center’s activities to more appropriately fit its financial capabilities and the needs of the community. At that time, The Center’s philosophy was redefined and it was then that programming for the local community became The Center’s first priority. Art workshops were redesigned to accommodate a broader community constituency. A commitment was made to present the talents of nationally and internationally known artists in both the visual and performing arts as well as in the humanities that would otherwise not be available to our area.
The Center is now recognized nationally for its unique multidisciplinary programming. The directors of The Center’s visual arts, theatre, performing arts and education and humanities programs work in tandem with the Artistic Director to develop three or four multidisciplinary projects a year. These projects explore timely themes and topics from multiple perspectives. Recent topics include biodiversity, Tibetan art and culture, corporate America and philanthropy, and Mexican immigration and labor, war, fairytales and water.
In 2006 The Center received accreditation from the American Association of Museums in recognition of its adherence to the highest standards of operation and programming. Only five percent of America’s arts and cultural institutions share this distinction.
In January of 2013 the Center’s Board of Directors approved a merger with Company of Fools, a long- standing and well-respected professional theatre company. Company of Fools (COF) has moved under the umbrella of The Center, becoming the theater arts arm of the organization. COF will maintain its name and identity as a prominent Center program and continue to base its operations out of the Liberty Theatre in Hailey.
The Center’s main gallery and offices are located in Ketchum. In addition, The Center operates two facilities in Hailey to better serve the needs of the growing population of southern Blaine County. The Liberty Theatre houses Company of Fools (the Center’s theatre arts arm) and an ancillary facility consists of a historic house that was the birthplace of Ezra Pound and a newly built, state of the art freestanding classroom. The Center is pursuing its vision of building a new building in Ketchum that will include flexible spaces for exhibitions, a performing arts facility, and additional classroom space. The new facility is envisioned to take advantage of the Center’s multidisciplinary programming model and promises to be a gathering place for the entire community. Learn more about the vision for a new building here.