Founded in 1971, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts is the oldest arts organization in Idaho’s Wood River Valley and the largest in the state of Idaho. Over time, The Center has grown from a handful of people presenting classes and events to a professional arts organization that serves more than 40,000 patrons 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 Bill Janss, owner of Sun Valley Company from 1964 to 1977. Back in the early days when the Union Pacific Railroad owned Sun Valley Resort, the 6-acre property along Trail Creek was the site of kennels where the resort’s sled dogs were kept; today the property is home to Community School. For several years, The Center flourished at this location as a facility for high-level fine arts residencies. Many of the participating artists and faculty have since gone on to achieve celebrated careers.
During the early years, The Center’s highly regarded faculty established the Wood River Valley’s first art gallery and taught classes in photography, printmaking and ceramics. The Center’s dance and theater workshops offered a broader arts experience than was previously available, and conferences held by the Institute of the American West attracted prominent historians and an audience hungry for knowledge of the Western experience. Because of the Janss Corporation’s commitment to developing a year-round resort and attracting second homeowners to the area, an expanded community began to demand and support The Center’s programs.
In the early 1980s, a decrease in federal funding for the arts forced The Center to closely examine its programs and finances. After careful consideration, the Board of Directors chose to restructure The Center’s offerings to better align with its financial capabilities and the community’s needs. The Center’s philosophy was also redefined, with programming for the local community taking priority. To this end, The Center took two major steps: it redesigned its art workshops to appeal to a broader segment of the community, and it made a commitment to present the talents of nationally and internationally recognized artists in the visual arts, the performing arts and the humanities.
Today, The Center is nationally recognized for its unique, multidisciplinary “BIG IDEA” programming. The directors of The Center’s visual arts, theatre, performing arts, education and humanities programs work in tandem with the Artistic Director to develop three or four BIG IDEA projects each year that explore timely themes and topics from a variety of perspectives. Recent BIG IDEA topics include biodiversity, the brain, Tibetan art and culture, the meaning of gender in the 21st century, Rock & Roll, 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 5 percent of America’s arts and cultural institutions share this distinction.
In January 2013, The Center’s Board of Directors approved a merger with Company of Fools, a long-standing and award-winning professional theatre company. As a prominent program within The Center, Company of Fools maintains its name and identity and continues to base its operations at the historic Liberty Theatre on Main Street in Hailey, Idaho.
In 2016, Company of Fools and the Sun Valley Center for the Arts received a donation of the historic Liberty Theatre on Main Street in Hailey, Idaho, from Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, who had owned the property since 1995. Moore and Willis’ generous donation formalizes the Liberty Theatre as COF’s theatrical home and provides a permanent anchor for The Center’s programming in Hailey. With this gift, the building becomes an important real estate asset for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, and The Center will assume full responsibility for its future upkeep and maintenance.
The Center’s museum space and administrative offices are located in Ketchum. The Center also operates a facility in Hailey to better serve the needs of the growing population of southern Blaine County. This ancillary location consists of two structures: a historic home that was the birthplace of Ezra Pound and a state-of-the-art, freestanding classroom built to The Center’s specifications in 2006. In addition, The Center is pursuing its vision of constructing a new building that will include flexible spaces for exhibitions, additional classroom space and a welcoming place for the community to gather.