Arts July 28, 2008

Central Arts

Sun Valley Center for the Arts Brings Programs Mid-Valley to Expand Reach

At 35 years old, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts displays all the energy and ambition one might expect of any go-getter at that age.

When it was founded by Bill Janss, then owner of the ski area, it was to round out his vision for Sun Valley. That is, that it was not enough for Sun Valley to simply be a “beautiful place and a ski mountain,” said Kristin Poole, artistic director. “They needed to build a cultural life.” Janss, a former Olympic skier and scion of a company that built much of Southern California, was an art collector and had met Glenn Cooper in Los Angeles. He invited her to come to Sun Valley to start up a cultural center. After his wife was killed in an avalanche, Janss and Cooper married, and together created the beginnings of Sun Valley’s rather spectacular current art scene.

“It started small,” says Poole, “with an artists’ colony and an artist in residence.” One of those artists was Gail Severn who now runs one of the top art galleries in Ketchum.

Over the years, as the center’s prestige has grown, it has diversified, offering opportunities to see a wide range of performing arts, from ballet to Bonnie Raitt, as well as visual arts exhibits and classes.

The Center is supported by a “family of people who have been with us for a long time,” and new people who get involved each year, Poole said. In addition, it raises funds with a wildly popular annual wine auction and an arts and crafts fair. It is housed in a smallish facility in Ketchum at Fifth and Washington, but fund-raising has begun to move to a greatly enlarged space at Second Avenue and Fourth Street.

Tom Kundig, a principal architect with the Seattle firm, Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, is designing the new facility. Sam Gappmayer, executive director of the Center, expresses confidence in Kundig’s qualifications, citing his experience in the design of cultural and arts facilities and his reputation of integrating a building into its environment in a unique and dynamic way. Kundig was recently named one of three finalists for this year’s architecture award by the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. Poole says the Center expects the project to take several years to complete.

In an amazing example of community generosity, Engelmann Inc. has donated its services in building the addition to the arts education facility. The company has rallied subcontractors and vendors to donate their time and materials as well.

“The motivation is that we are excited that one of the Valley’s largest non-profits has decided to bring its programs to Hailey,” Engelmann Inc. Vice President Nick Gilman says. “It’s where we live and are raising our kids.” >>>


Meanwhile, the Center was able to expand its geographical reach after it was given the historic Ezra Pound house in Hailey in 2005. The Center has already made use of the property, with its good-size post-Victorian house and large yard. “The historic home has two claims, actually,” says Poole. “It was the birthplace of Ezra Pound [in 1885] and has been lived in by the McKercher family, leading citizens of the area.”

The house itself has been revamped for public space and a private residence.

Poole said several rooms have been “very loosely” turned into exhibition space, while the dining room and kitchen are intact, and upstairs “there is a good living space.” That space is designated for the Center’s new writer-in-residence program and will offer a space for a writer to work for a period of time which will include a week of running a writers’ workshop for budding writers in the Valley.

The highly regarded short-story writer Ron Carlson, who is also a professor at the prestigious Arizona State University writing program, spent three weeks in the house this past summer and did a workshop that drew a variety of students.

The move was partly a response to the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, a huge annual event featuring many well-known writers speaking over a several day period. “A lot of local people hoped it would be more of a hands-on opportunity, but it has really evolved into an idea and reading-based week. We recognized there was an opportunity for workshopping,” said Poole. That is a goal of the Center, she said, to respond to what cultural needs there are.

The writer in residence has not been selected for next summer yet, but will be announced when it is settled. Meanwhile, the grounds of the house have provided “art camps on the lawn,” Poole said.

Adjacent to the house, a second building has been constructed on the site to offer additional classroom space. Architects Mark and Jill Corney of Red Canoe Architecture researched the history of the home and discovered that there had actually been a barn alongside the home at one time. So the new construction for the site was conceived as a barn, complete with two sets of classic barn doors. One set of barn doors opens onto the grounds so that classes can spill over into the gardens in nice weather. The barn was scheduled to be completed in early fall.

For more information about the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, call 726.9491 or visit


This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.