Laboratory of the Arts


The unique advantages of Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Arts Enterprise Laboratory (AEL), a program found in no other American high school, will be felt this spring as a dozen student artists complete special projects funded by AEL grants.

Yet the Academy also benefited this school year from the talents of the newest AEL intern to assist one of the arts departments: during the 2021 Fall Semester, 2016 alum Daniela Rendon Alonso taught classes (including Dance History) in her discipline to Idyllwild Arts students while also teaching children as young as five in the Children’s Dance Program.   

In addition, AEL supplies funding to the Art in Society program’s dynamic advocacy of the Academy’s young Citizen Artists and their efforts to engage with the global community. AEL sponsored both the Lula Washington Dance Theatre and the inspiring educator Tim McGowan for their appearances at last month’s Art in Society Symposium.    

Performers from the Lula Washington Dance Theatre onstage at the William M. Lowman concert hall on the Idyllwild Arts campus

The final part of the AEL mission was in evidence recently during the AEL-funded residency by Ron McCurdy on the Idyllwild Arts campus, and just before Winter Break when modern dance specialist Stephanie Gilliland spent an intense week teaching an AEL-funded master class. Gilliland worked with the entire Dance Department, and eleven of the students displayed the results in her piece, Buffalo, during the Academy’s Spring Dance Concert, March 16-18.  

Dr. Ron McCurdy working with students as part of his residency on the topic of “Disrupting Racism Through the Lens of the Arts”

Gilliland taught at the Academy for twenty-four years before moving to Portland with her husband last summer. 

“So I know Ellen [Rosa Taylor, Dance Department Chair] very well and I know why she requests AEL funding for master classes like mine. The Academy Dance curriculum is rock solid; the practice of dance is beautifully supplemented by education in choreography and dance history. But–and it’s true for any arts discipline, which is why all Academy arts departments have AEL master classes–students benefit from a fresh perspective when they see the same teachers every day, no matter how good the teachers are.”  

Although Gilliland’s role as modern dance teacher has been filled more than ably by Yuka Fukuda, her point is that “sometimes you need to hear the same thing said differently, or just with a different voice, before it clicks.”  

She adds that “It’s also vital to the careers of young artists to build a network of contacts, and bringing teachers from the outside grows those networks.”  

Gilliland’s point about outside teachers does not apply perfectly to her own case given her long history at Idyllwild Arts. However, her December master class was assisted by a dancer new to the Academy students. 

“To help me I brought Adrianna Audoma, a 2012 alum. She’s a gorgeous dancer and a great teacher, who provides a lot of specific suggestions in rehearsal. And as an alum she served as a model to the students. They look at her and think, ‘Wow, if I work hard that’s the kind of dancer I can be one day; that’s what I can get out of the great Dance program we have here!'”  

Student dancers perform Gilliland’s modern dance piece, Buffalo

Becoming Masters Independently 

The gains derived from AEL master classes are clear. Yet young artists must also find and establish their own identities as creators. Working independently on special AEL-funded projects enables Idyllwild Arts students to take huge strides in that direction.

The students receiving AEL grants this school year are Olga Abadi (Visual Arts), Liam Creamer (Music), Gabriela Gamberg (Music), Ella Garnes (Film and Digital Media), An Lin Hunt-Babcock (Creative Writing), Victoria Karaver Lubliner (Theater), Nita Lomidze and Eddy Perez Trimino (Dance), Alyssa Minor (Creative Writing), Myka Morton (Visual Arts), Lillian Tookey (Creative Writing), and An Tran (Music).

Their projects are as diverse as the artistic passions of the Academy’s global student population. To mention only one such project, An Tran, Class of 2022, who came to Idyllwild Arts from Ho Chi Minh City in August 2019, used her grant to take lessons from Idyllwild Arts Jazz and Songwriting instructor Clayton Powell on a new instrument, piano. An will showcase her piano skills during her senior songwriting recital next month. At her recital she will also debut a song written in collaboration with a student from Soul Music & Performing Arts Academy, the Vietnamese partner of Idyllwild Arts.

An has won a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music, where her father was the first Vietnamese student to be awarded a scholarship. She is accustomed to displaying her virtuosity on saxophone, which she learned as if on a dare from her father after he told her that “girls don’t play the saxophone.”

Music student An Tran participates in both the Jazz and Songwriting programs at the Academy, and won an AEL grant to help her take private lessons to learn yet another instrument

Because sax and piano do not cover a broad enough swath of the musical spectrum to contain her talent, An has also learned to play guitar at Idyllwild Arts. Adding new capabilities to their repertoires is common among students at the Academy, which throws together hundreds of young artists whose interests and abilities are bound to rub off on one another.   

Of course, the rubbing-off of interests and abilities that Idyllwild Arts encourages takes place not only among peers. Stephanie Gilliland has mentioned a 2012 Academy alum as an inspiration to current students. For Winter Break, An Tran was looking forward to visiting New York to meet clarinet master Evan Christopher, in 1987 part of the Academy’s inaugural graduating class after being the first pupil of Idyllwild Arts teaching legend Marshall Hawkins, who connected An to Christopher.   

Arts Enterprise Laboratory is well named. The projects it funds are bold experiments and we cannot know where they’ll lead. Creativity is unpredictable. When young artists receive support for projects that will realize their dreams, the finished work gives birth to more dreams, leading their creativity in new directions.   

In this way, Arts Enterprise Laboratory is an exemplary representative of all of Idyllwild Arts. Idyllwild Arts brings together passionate and talented artists like Stephanie Gilliland, Daniela Rendon Alonso, Adrianna Audoma, An Tran, Clayton Powell, Evan Christopher, and Marshall Hawkins. All of Idyllwild Arts is a laboratory that mixes together artists like these for experiments in beauty.