California Institute of the Arts

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California Institute of the Arts
California Institute of the Arts logo
Other name
Established1961; 59 years ago (1961)
FoundersWalt Disney, Roy O. Disney, Nelbert Chouinard
Endowment$178.8 million (2019)[1]
Budget$70.4 million (2019)
ChairmanTimothy J. Disney
PresidentRavi Rajan
ProvostTracie Costantino
Academic staff
400 (Fall 2019)
Administrative staff
262 (Fall 2019)
Students1,523 (Fall 2019)
Undergraduates1,025 (Fall 2019)
Postgraduates492 (Fall 2019)
6 (Fall 2019)
United States

34°23′35″N 118°34′00″W / 34.39306°N 118.56667°W / 34.39306; -118.56667Coordinates: 34°23′35″N 118°34′00″W / 34.39306°N 118.56667°W / 34.39306; -118.56667
The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts
Main academic building

The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) is a private art university in Santa Clarita, California. It was incorporated in 1961 as the first degree-granting institution of higher learning in the US created specifically for students of both the visual and performing arts. It offers Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees through its six schools: Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater.[7]

The school was first envisioned by many benefactors in the early 1960s, staffed by a diverse array of professionals including Nelbert Chouinard, Walt Disney, Lulu Von Hagen, and Thornton Ladd.[8][9] CalArts students develop their own work, over which they retain control and copyright, in a workshop atmosphere.


CalArts was originally formed in 1961, as a merger of the Chouinard Art Institute (founded 1921) and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music (founded 1883).[10] Both of the formerly existing institutions were going through financial difficulties around the same time, and the founder of the Art Institute, Nelbert Chouinard, was mortally ill. Through the vision of Disney, who discovered and trained many of his studio artists at Chouinard (including Mary Blair, Maurice Noble, and some of the Nine Old Men, among others), the merger of the two institutions was coordinated; the process continued after his death in 1966.[11] Joining him were his brother Roy O. Disney, Lulu Von Hagen and Thornton Ladd (Ladd & Kelsey, Architects), of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. The original board of trustees at CalArts included Harrison Price, Royal Clark, Robert W. Corrigan, Roy E. Disney, Roy O. Disney, film producer Z. Wayne Griffin, H. R. Haldeman, Ralph Hetzel (then vice president of Motion Picture Association of America), Chuck Jones, Ronald Miller, Millard Sheets, attorney Maynard Toll, attorney Luther Reese Marr,[12] bank executive G. Robert Truex Jr., Jerry Wexler, Meredith Willson, Peter McBean and Scott Newhall (descendants of Henry Newhall); and the wives of Roswell Gilpatric, J. L. Hurschler, Richard R. Von Hagen.[13]

In 1965, the Alumni Association was founded. The 12 founding board of directors members were Mary Costa, Edith Head, Gale Storm, Marc Davis, Tony Duquette, Harold Grieve, John Hench, Chuck Jones, Henry Mancini, Marty Paich, Nelson Riddle, and Millard Sheets.

The ground-breaking for CalArts' current campus took place on May 3, 1969. However, construction of the new campus was hampered by torrential rains, labor troubles, and the earthquake in 1971. CalArts moved to its present campus in the Valencia section of the city of Santa Clarita, California in November 1971.The founding board of trustees originally planned on creating CalArts as a school in an entertainment complex, a destination like Disneyland, and a feeder school for the industry.[14] Such a model is exemplified in the 1941 Disney film The Reluctant Dragon. In an ironic turn of fate, they appointed Robert W. Corrigan as the first president of the institute.

Corrigan, former dean of the School of Arts at New York University fired almost all the artists and teachers from Chouinard in his attempt to remake CalArts into his personal vision. Herbert Blau hired professionals such as Mel Powell (dean of the School of Music), Paul Brach (dean of the School of Art), Alexander Mackendrick (dean of the School of Film/Video), sociologist Maurice R. Stein (dean of Critical Studies), and Richard Farson (dean of the School of Design; now integrated in the Art school as the Graphic Design program), as well as other influential program heads and teachers such as Stephan von Huene, Allan Kaprow, Bella Lewitzky, Michael Asher, Jules Engel, John Baldessari, Judy Chicago, Ravi Shankar, Max Kozloff, Miriam Shapiro, Douglas Huebler, Morton Subotnick, Norman M. Klein, and Nam June Paik, most of whom largely came from a counterculture and avant garde side of the art world.[15]

Corrigan held his position until 1972, when he was replaced by William S. Lund, a Disney son-in-law.[16] In 1975, Robert J. Fitzpatrick was appointed new president of CalArts.

On June 24, 2015, Steven D. Lavine announced he would step down as president of the California Institute of the Arts in May 2017, after 29 years in the position.[17] Concluding a search with over 500 candidates, the CalArts board of directors announced on December 13, 2016, that Ravi S. Rajan,[18] dean of the School of the Arts at the State University of New York at Purchase was unanimously elected as president, to begin in June 2017.[19]

In 1994, Herb Alpert, a professional musician and admirer of the institute, established the Alpert Awards in the Arts in collaboration with CalArts and his nonprofit the Herb Alpert Foundation. While the foundation provides the award for winning recipients, the school's faculty in the fields film/new media, visual arts, theatre, dance, and music select artists in their field to nominate an individual artist who is recognized for their innovation in their given medium. Recipients of this award are required to stay for a week as visiting artists at CalArts and mentor students studying their metier. In 2008, CalArts renamed the School of Music in his name, courtesy of a $15 million donation.

Over the years, the school has also developed on-campus, interdisciplinary laboratories, such as the Center for Experiments in Art, Information, and Technology, Center for Integrated Media, Center for New Performance at CalArts, and the Cotsen Center for Puppetry and the Arts.

On August 29, 2014, a freshman student identified as Regina filed a Title IX complaint against CalArts, regarding CalArts' alleged improper response to her reported rape by a classmate. According to Aljazeera, the CalArts administration questioned the victim, "...ask[ing] her questions about her drinking habits, how often she partied, the length of her dress, ..."[20] She was allegedly subjected to retaliation from friends of the perpetrator. The student filed a complaint against CalArts with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, which was eventually dismissed. The perpetrator was suspended for a year.[20] CalArts students walked out of their classes and protested in solidarity with the victim on October 23, later initiating a student-led meeting to discuss the issue of sexual assault.[21][22][23]

In March 2019, Cal Arts announced a tuition hike that would take its annual tuition to $50,850.[24]


CalArts offers degree programs in music, art, dance, film and video, animation, theater, puppetry, and writing. Students receive intensive professional training in the area of their career purpose without being cast into a rigid pattern. Its focus is in interdisciplinary contemporary art, and the institute's stated mission is to develop professional artists of tomorrow, artists who will change their field. With these goals in place, the institute encourages students to recognize the complexity of political, social, and aesthetic questions and to respond to them with informed, independent judgment.[25]


Every school within the institute requires that applicants send in an artist's statement, along with a portfolio or audition (depending on the program) to be considered for admission. The school does not review an applicant's SAT scores without consent of the applicant and does not consider an applicant's GPA as part of the admission process.

2019[26] 2018[27] 2017[28]
Applicants 4,033 4,431 2,265
Admits 1,238 1,200 545
Admission rate 30.7% 27.1% 24.1%
Enrolled 529 523 235

Conception and foundation[edit]

The initial concept behind CalArts' interdisciplinary approach came from Richard Wagner's idea of Gesamtkunstwerk ("total artwork"), of which Disney himself was fond and explored in a variety of forms, beginning with his own studio, then later in the incorporation of CalArts. He began with the film Fantasia (1940), where animators, dancers, composers, and artists alike collaborated. In 1952, Walt Disney Imagineering was founded, where Disney formed a team of artists including Herbert Ryman, Ken O’Brien, Collin Campbell, Marc Davis, Al Bertino, Wathel Rogers, Mary Blair, T. Hee, Blaine Gibson, Xavier Atencio, Claude Coats, and Yale Gracey. He believed that the same concept that developed WDI could also be applied to a university setting, where art students of different media would be exposed to and explore a wide range of creative directions.[29]


Schools at CalArts include:

  • School of Art
  • School of Critical Studies
  • School of Film/Video
  • The Herb Alpert School of Music
  • School of Theater
  • The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance



A113 is a classroom at CalArts where many character animation classes have been taught. Many CalArts alumni have inserted references to it in their works as an homage to the classroom and CalArts.

Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater at Walt Disney Concert Hall[edit]

In 2003, CalArts established a performance theater in downtown Los Angeles called REDCAT, the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Center for New Performance, the professional producing arm of the CalArts Theater School, brings works to the space from both student and professional artists and musicians.

John Baldessari Art Studio Building[edit]

In 2013, CalArts opened its John Baldessari Art Studio Building, which cost $3.1 million to build and features approximately 7,000 square feet of space—much of it used as studio space for art students and faculty.[30]

Notable alumni, faculty, and visiting artists[edit]

Alpert Award in the Arts[edit]

The Alpert Award in the Arts was established in 1994 by The Herb Alpert Foundation and CalArts. The Institute annually awards a $75,000 no-strings-attached fellowship to five artists in the fields of dance, film and video, music, theatre, and visual arts. Awardees have a residency at CalArts during the following academic year.

Critical reception and cultural influence[edit]

In 2011, Newsweek/The Daily Beast listed CalArts as the top school for arts-minded students. The ranking was not aimed to assess the country's best art school, but rather to assess campuses that offer an exceptional artistic atmosphere.[31][32][33]

Animation industry[edit]

Several students who attended CalArts' animation programs in the 1970s eventually found work at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and several of those went on to successful careers at Disney, Pixar, and other animation studios. In March 2014, Vanity Fair magazine highlighted the success of CalArts' 1970s animation alumni and briefly profiled several (including Jerry Rees, John Lasseter, Tim Burton, John Musker, Brad Bird, Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, Henry Selick and Nancy Beiman) in an article illustrated with a group portrait taken by photographer Annie Leibovitz inside classroom A113.[34]

In the late eighties, a group of CalArts animation students contacted animation director Ralph Bakshi. As he was in the process of moving to New York, they persuaded him to stay in Los Angeles to continue to produce adult animation.[35] Bakshi then got the production rights to the cartoon character Mighty Mouse. By Bakshi's request, Tom Minton and John Kricfalusi then went to the CalArts campus to recruit the best talent from what was the recent group of graduates. They hired Jeff Pidgeon, Rich Moore, Carole Holiday, Andrew Stanton and Nate Kanfer to work on the then-new Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures television series.[36]

In an interview, Craig "Spike" Decker of Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation commented on the work of independent animator Don Hertzfeldt stating that Hertzfeldt demonstrated good instincts coupled with his lack of interest in the world of commerce. In making a comparison, Decker made a reference to CalArts stating: "A lot of animators come out of CalArts – they could be so prolific, but then they're owned by Disney or someone, and they're painting the fins on the Little Mermaid. You'll never see their full potential".[37][38][39] He would later go on to serve as a mentor to John Kricfalusi, who has been openly critical of Disney and the CalArts style.

A derogatory term of "CalArts Style" emerged in the late 2010s by animation fans, directed at the thin-frame animation style that had been taught at CalArts around this period. The term is attributed to animator John Kricfalusi in a 2010 blog post, on which Kricfalusi criticized the recurring trend of animators to copy, even inadvertently, a popular animation style into their own works and not trying to be original.[40] The CalArts Style has been used in successful animated shows like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, and Over the Garden Wall, all from CalArts graduates Pendleton Ward, Alex Hirsch, and Pat McHale, respectively, but has also been used by other non-CalArts animators, such as with Rebecca Sugar's Steven Universe, Kyle Carrozza's Mighty Magiswords, and John McIntyre's Ben 10 2016 reboot. Animation fans have derided works using this CalArts Style, particularly for reboots of existing franchises, such as Ben 10, ThunderCats Roar, and Teen Titans Go!, as the style re-envisions originally detailed and powerful characters in a "chibi" appearance, which fans feel degrade the characters. In associating with CalArt's relative importance to Western animation, these fans believe that the CalArts Style can become a dominant form of animation.[40] Animators have defended the style, stating it is only part of the current trend of animation, and that while CalArts does produce a large number of influential animators, the school does not have that much practical influence on the industry.[40] Animators have also said the term simplified the process of animation design too much, and has become too vague as a catchall term.[41] Some observers also believe that animation fans have derided the CalArts Style as it tends to be associated with shows that appear to promote, in their views, "Tumblr culture" that favors progressive views.[42]


During the formative years of the Art School many of the teaching artists led different camps of movements. The two main camps were the conceptualism students, which were led by John Baldasseri, and the fluxus camp, which was led by Allan Kaprow. Kaprow's approach to art was a continuation from his tenure at Rugers University. Other movements included Light and Space, which was closely related to the artists associated with the Ferus Gallery in the greater Los Angeles area. In 1972, Calarts hosted an exhibition called The Last Plastics Show, which was organized by faculty artist Judy Chicago, Doug Edge, as well as Dewain Valentine.[43] This exhibition included artist such as, Carole Caroompas, Ron Cooper, Ronald Davis, Fred Eversley, Craig Kauffman, Linda Levi, Ed Moses, Barbara T. Smith, and Vasa Mihich.[44]

In the autobiography Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas by CalArts alum Eric Fischl, he describes his experience as a student as "CalArts had such a narrow idea of the New. It was innovation for its own sake, a future that didn't include the past But without foundation, without techniques or a deeper understanding of history, you'd go off these wild explorations and end up reinventing the wheel. And then you'd get slammed for it."

In the LA Weekly op-ed piece "The Kids Aren't All Right: Is over-education killing young artists?", published in 2005, curator Aaron Rose wrote about an observed trend he recognized in Los Angeles's most esteemed art schools and their MFA programs, including CalArts. He uses the example of Supersonic, "a large exhibition ... that features the work of MFA students from esteemed area programs like CalArts, Art Center, UCLA, etc." In his observation of the showcase, he examined, "... the work left me mostly empty and with a few exceptions seemed like nothing more than a rehash of conceptual ideas that were mined years ago." He went on to state that "these institutions are staffed with amazing talents (Mike Kelley and John Baldessari among them). Legions of creative young people flock to our city [Los Angeles] every year to work alongside their heroes and develop their talents with hopes of making it as an artist." He goes on to further state "What happens too often in these situations, though, is that we find young artists simply emulating their instructors, rather than finding and honing their own aesthetics and points of view about the world, society, themselves. In the beginnings of an artist's career, the power in his or her work should lie not in their technique or knowledge of art history or theory or business acumen, but in what one has to say."[45]

CalArts alumnus Ariel Pink notes in an interview "Unlike other art schools, they didn't focus on skills of any kind, specific color theory or anything like that. They were the only art school that was totally focused on teaching artists about the art market. They were trying to make the next Damien Hirst. They're trying to make the next Jeff Koons. Those guys don't need to know how to paint or draw."[46]


CalArts graduates have joined or started successful pop bands, including: The Belle Brigade, The Weirdos, Bedroom Walls, Beelzabubba, Dawn of Midi, The Rippingtons, Fitz and the Tantrums, Fol Chen, London After Midnight, No Doubt, Mission of Burma, Radio Vago, Oingo Boingo, Liars, The Mae Shi, Touché Amoré, and Ozomatli.

Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, members of the band Sonic Youth, remarked in an interview with VH1 about the band Liars, of which Angus Andrew and Julian Gross are CalArts luminaries. Moore's initial remarks were: "There's this whole world of young people who [think] everything's allowed. What Liars are doing right now is completely crazy. I saw them the other night and it was really great. It's really out-there". Gordon then stated "I'm not so crazy about the way [the Liars' They Were Wrong, So We Drowned] sounds. It's like 'how lo-fi can we make it?' But I think the content is really good". In reference to CalArts and Gordon's statement, Moore lastly remarked "They're art kids. They came out of CalArts and that's the kind of sensibility you have when you come out of these sort of places."[47]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]