Adventures in the wilds of Idaho's Wood River Valley are uniquely steeped in a cosmopolitan brew of fine arts, from poignant theater and rousing classical concerts in the Sun Valley Pavilion to titillating paintings and sculptures by national and international artists during a Friday evening gallery walk.
Even a passing visitor in July can get involved with one of the Creative Jump-Ins! from Company of Fools (companyoffools.org) and Sun Valley Center for the Arts. The one-time, two-hour, $25 classes are for people age 17 and older to learn a song and a dance, work on forming a British stage accent or develop abstract water color skills.
"Education is really an integral part of who we are here," said Denise Simone, who served six terms with Idaho Arts Commission and is a Company of Fools founding member.
Simone is leading July's Act II course Stages of Memory, which incorporates personal experience for adult thespians age 55 and older. "We have an amazing group of extended learners. Arts education is such an important part of what we do."
Visitors can feel the benefit of dynamic community support, including a special Sun Valley Center for the Arts (191 Fifth St., Ketchum, sunvalleycenter.org) summer installation titled Geared: The Culture of Bicycles. Images of bicycle portraits are on display at the Hailey Center (314 Second Ave. S., Hailey)--on a very bicycle--friendly street--a hot spot for "a summer's worth of bike-related events, including classes, films and an interactive outdoor installation," according to the center's website.
"It's a subject that fascinates--and obsesses--a huge number of people in our community," said Britt Udesen, the center's director of education and humanities. "I love it when we can find a subject that is pushing contemporary artists to make work that forces us to ask better questions and look more closely at what we already know. Plus, we're showing really good movies and hosting good parties."
"People who come here do all this amazing outdoor recreation and you have the supporting backdrop of the arts," said Greg Randolph, the Wood River Valley's marketing linchpin. "It's so unique. It's world-class recreation on this remote outpost of civilization and it has New York City- and Los Angeles-level arts. We have a really unique proposition that highlights the center for the arts, Boulder Mountain Clayworks and the [Sun Valley] Writers' Conference. It's world-class stuff."
Another summer tradition in Sun Valley is the August Sun Valley Center Arts & Crafts Festival at Atkinsons Park by the Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum, which allows children to create art with a teaching artist for free. Projects are different every day and mesh with what artists are working on. Past projects have included hat making, felting, painting, papermaking, bookbinding and printmaking. Udesen said while there are no formal classes for adults, there are artist demonstrations from 1-4 p.m. each day of the festival.
Fine arts are prominent and successful in the Wood River Valley because many people come from very urban areas and want to have the same experience they might have in a city, said Claudia McCain, president of the Wood River Arts Alliance and chair of the Ketchum Arts Commission, two organizations that work to promote Sun Valley arts.
As the draw to the Sun Valley arts scene expands, the economy does as well, McCain said.
"We're going into our 27th season, and I think that the Sun Valley Summer Symphony is successful because of our widespread community support," said Jennifer Teisinger, executive director for the symphony. That support is more than financial--although that part is substantial considering it's the nation's largest privately funded, free-admission symphony.
"The community attendance keeps growing. We grew 25 percent from 2009 to 2010 in part because of our major marquis artist (Itzhak Perlman). We had 42,000 who attended concerts last year," Teisinger said.
Music education is also an important part of the symphony (svsummersymphony.org) with three main programs: the School of Music, a comprehensive year-round music program for local students; the Summer Music Workshops, a week-long music workshop for elementary through high school students held the first week of the symphony season each August; and the Adult Education Lecture Series, which is held during the symphony season and includes "Upbeat" with Music Director Alasdair Neale and pre-concert talks.
"The audience is so appreciative. The orchestra musicians feel it. The guest artists feel it. They want to come back year after year," Teisinger said. "It is an inspiring and supportive community that is enthusiastic about having the highest quality musicians here. The energy goes both ways and is transformative."
Reserve seating in the Sun Valley Pavilion goes to major donors, but there is usually space for those who choose to relinquish the picnic blanket and sit inside the state-of-the-art canopy. The thousands who choose to enjoy the views of Bald Mountain from the lawn, which also has a large-screen LED that shows the stage, are encouraged to picnic.
"Our tag line for the Sun Valley Summer Symphony is 'elevate your senses,' which is a double entendre with the altitude and increasing your musical experience," Teisinger said. "All five senses are engaged. We've got people eating and Baldy in the background. It can be any experience you want it to be. It doesn't matter how much money you have and you don't have to plan ahead."