CalArts History

California Institute of the Arts has set the pace for educating professional artists for nearly half a century. Offering rigorous undergraduate and graduate degree programs through six schools—Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music and Theater—CalArts has championed creative excellence, critical reflection, and the development of new forms and expressions.

In 1960, Walt Disney first developed plans for a new school for theperforming and visual arts where different creative disciplines would come together under one roof, inspiring and elevating each other. The following year, Walt Disney and his brother Roy O. Disney, guided the merger of two schools: the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, founded in 1883, and the Chouinard Art Institute, founded in 1921, to form California Institute of the Arts.

The campus, which was originally envisioned for the hills overlooking Hollywood's Cahuenga Pass, now sits on 60 acres in the city of Santa Clarita, located 30 miles north of Downtown Los Angeles. The heart of the campus is a sprawling five-level, 500,000-square-foot building, which remains true to Disney's original vision for CalArts.

Today, more than 1,400 students learn and make at CalArts, striving to create work that matters globally to the state of culture today—and in the future.

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Robert W. Corrigan

In 1968, Robert W. Corrigan, dean of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, was appointed president of the newly founded California Institute of the Arts. Corrigan and first Provost Herbert Blau assembled a high-powered faculty by recruiting some of the most innovative and unorthodox voices in the arts. This new faculty included now-iconic figures, such as artists Allan Kaprow, John Baldessari and Nam June Paik; composers Mel Powell and Morton Subotnick; sitar master Ravi Shankar; ethnomusicologist Nicholas England; designers Peter and Sheila DeBretteville; choreographer Bella Lewitzky; director Alexander Mackendrick; film scholar Gene Youngblood; experimental filmmaker Pat O'Neill; and animation artist Jules Engel.

Robert J. Fitzpatrick

In 1975, following the departure of Corrigan, Robert J. Fitzpatrick, professor of medieval French literature and dean of students at Johns Hopkins University, was named president of CalArts. During his tenure, the CalArts Character Animation program blossomed (with Jerry Rees and John Lasseter the first two students accepted into the program). In 1983, the famed CalArts Jazz Program was founded by bassist Charlie Haden, of Ornette Coleman Quartet fame, and pianist David Roitstein.

Steven D. Lavine

After Fitzpatrick left to head Euro Disney in Paris, Steven D. Lavine, associate director for arts and humanities at the Rockefeller Foundation, took the reins of CalArts in 1988. Through his leadership, CalArts launched the Community Arts Partnership (CAP) in 1990; helped the Institute survive the 1994 Northridge earthquake; and steered the campaign to build and open the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in downtown Los Angeles.

Ravi Rajan

Rajan begins his tenure as the fourth president of CalArts on June 1, 2017.