FeatureProfile September 30, 2022

Leslie Jackson Chihuly

Strengthening community and mountain culture through the art world

Ten years ago, Leslie Jackson Chihuly had a vision, and what started as mere chairlift chatter for Chihuly eventually gained traction when she and friend Hank Minor shared stories about their love of the mountain culture. They wanted to figure out how to give back.

“We talked about bringing something new to the community,” Chihuly says. “We spoke about combining youth culture, music, art and hospitality all in one, so I started this little LLC. The idea was that once it’s going, we’d generate enough income so that we could do more philanthropic work through it.”

And as the ideas kept coming down like snowflakes on a powder day, Warm Springs Productions was born with the idea that there was a deeper calling to strengthen communities and mountain culture through the art world.
After a decade of planning, Warm Springs Productions put on its first event in July 2022 that featured a two-day billing with three unique affairs. On July 12, Ketchum’s Argyros Performing Arts Center welcomed Thunderpussy, Shaina Shepherd and Smokey Brights along with the Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show. Following the show, there was a Warm Springs Launch after-party with Chong the Nomad. On July 13, Warm Springs Productions hosted an Idaho Bounty Dinner with chef Dev Patel and wine specialist Leif Engberg, with more music from Smokey Brights. The second night also had a closing night party with Acid Tongue with DJ Sarah Savannah. The entire two-day extravaganza was a hit, with 350 people filling the Argyros theater.

Chihuly couldn’t have pulled the event off without Minor and fellow marketing/event organizer Skyler Locatelli, who are partners with Chihuly in Warm Springs Productions. Minor owns Apple’s Bar & Grill in Warm Springs, and Locatelli—who is an Idaho native—is based out of Seattle and founded and runs the Freakout Festival in Ballard, Washington.

Chihuly’s love of art can be traced all the way back to her childhood when she was brought up in the panhandle of Oklahoma, in Guymon. Between there and Amarillo, Texas, Chihuly remembers the amazing opportunities with the arts.

“That was always my focus,” she says. “I played music, and I danced. I had so many opportunities to participate in art and culture. I had some great teachers and great friends, and growing up in a small town, I had to use my imagination and creativity because there wasn’t a lot to do there.”

From her humble upbringing in the Midwest, she went back East and studied at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, before landing in graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she’s been ever since.

In 1994, Chihuly met her now-husband of 15 years, world-famous artist Dale Chihuly, and they began working together. Dale’s generosity intrigued her, and she was impressed by how he treated his colleagues and fellow glass blowers. The duo took 50 people worldwide, blowing glass and hanging chandeliers over the canals of Venice, Italy. They made documentary films, and she learned more about art from his unique perspective.

The pinnacle came in 2000 when she and Dale worked on the project named “Chihuly in the light of Jerusalem,” where they took over the citadel in the oldest part of Jerusalem and displayed Dale’s artwork. Approximately one million people came to see the show, and for the first time, people from all faiths came together and realized the commonality of art that transcends belief systems or religion.

“It was an experience of beauty and light,” she says. “It was transformational.” It was after that life-altering event that Leslie began a career in philanthropy. She was the board chair of the Seattle Symphony for 10 years. She also serves on the boards of Vassar College and the Pilchuck Glass School.

She began coming to Sun Valley in the late ‘90s with Dale, and she became “smitten” with the area. She and Dale bought a home in Sun Valley in 2005, and along with their son, Jackson, the family spends every winter in Sun Valley skiing and now finding ways to give back to the community.

On the cuffs of a successful Warm Springs Productions launch, the aim of the company is to give back to nonprofits such as the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and The Community Library in Ketchum, where Dale’s art exhibit is on display through the end of 2022. And they plan to continue growing the event.

“We are in the process of putting something together,” Chihuly says. “We’d like to do something this winter and then something special again next summer.”

This article appears in the Fall 2022 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.