Sun Valley thrives through the arts as much as the outdoors

Teya Vitu//December 28, 2015//

Sun Valley thrives through the arts as much as the outdoors

Teya Vitu//December 28, 2015//

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Renowned pianist Garrick Ohlsson performed with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony this summer. Photo by Teya Vitu.
Pianist Garrick Ohlsson performed with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony this summer. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Sun Valley these days fashions itself as much as an arts destination as a year-round outdoor recreation hub.

Ever since the sweeping Sun Valley Pavilion amphitheater planted a landmark arts flag in 2008, Ketchum has continued adding arrows to its arts quiver. ArtPlace – a national collaboration of foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions – named Ketchum among the Top 12 Small-Town Art Places in 2013.

“What has shifted in Wood River Valley is a collective desire for all arts organization to come together to celebrate that people come here for great recreation,” said Kristen Poole, artistic director of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. “But the reason they come back is they realize that they can not just exercise their body but also exercise their mind and spirit.”

What Poole is talking about is the establishment of the Ketchum Arts Commission in 2009 by Claudia McCain at the urging of then-Mayor Randy Hall soon after the Pavilion set the stage. Arts organizations started meeting several times a year and they now have a singular voice that Poole put into words.

“Arts and culture are as significant as recreation and people should come here for both of those things,” she said. “It’s been a very focused effort in the last five years.”

A singular voice means nothing without an audience. Along came the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance in 2011, a tourism marketing entity that was split off from the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau as a free-standing organization. Recently renamed Visit Sun Valley, the group treats arts marketing and outdoors marketing as one and the same goal.

Jennifer Teisinger mingles with the audience before a Sun Valley Summer Symphony concert. Photo by Teya Vitu.
Jennifer Teisinger mingles with the audience before a Sun Valley Summer Symphony concert. Photo by Teya Vitu.

“Sun Valley is a real energetic combination of world-class outdoor recreation and world-class arts and culture and the fact that it is so accessible,” said Arlene Schieven, the alliance’s president and chief marketing officer since nearly the beginning. “You can go fly fishing in the morning and you don’t even have to get changed (to go to an event).”

July saw 86 percent room occupancy in Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey, the highest occupancy rate for any month for which there are records, Schieven said.

Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas credits the Sun Valley Center for the Arts for attracting visual and performance artists to the Wood River Valley to spend the summer. She cites arts, theater groups and symphony groups with stoking the overall visitor base in the region.

“I think more people are coming here not to ski,” Jonas said. “I would say the predominant driver is some kind of art event.”

By far the largest arts attraction is the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, which draws 40,000 people to its 16 concerts each year in August. But Jennifer Teisinger, the symphony’s executive director since 2006, acknowledges its impact largely falls within a three-and-a-half-week window when all the concerts are performed.

“We are a festival and we come and go,” said Teisinger, who is leaving the orchestra at the end of the year to become executive director of the Bravo! Vail Music Festival in Colorado. “The Company of Fools and the Center for the Arts – their presence is always felt here.”

Also stoking the arts calendar are the Trailing of the Sheep, the Hemingway Festival and the Sun Valley Jazz and Music Festival, now in its 26th year. Sun Valley in recent years has consciously sought to stretch the arts season beyond July and August.

Kristin Poole
Kristin Poole

The fourth Sun Valley Film Festival is set for March. The Sun Valley Wellness Festival has become a Memorial Day stalwart.

“June is getting to be quite busy here,” Schieven said. “We do well into October with the Jazz Festival and Trailing of the Sheep.”

The Company of Fools, Ketchum’s professional theater company, recently became an entity of the Sun Valley Center of the Arts. The Center is the largest nonprofit arts organization in the state by budget and scope of projects, according to the Idaho Commission on the Arts.

“Sun Valley Center for the Arts in particular has been consciously developing programming throughout the year and not only addressing the adult population but we do school tours,” Poole said.

The Sun Valley Center for the Arts is a virtual center that includes facilities spread around the valley, such as the Liberty Theatre in Hailey, where the Company of Fools performs. Poole acknowledges that for all its merits, Ketchum’s facilities put it short of being a full-fledged arts destination.

“I would say we are three-fourths of the way there,” Poole said. “We’re stumbling now in the facilities we can use.”

The city of Ketchum, however, has embraced its emerging arts status. The City Council in 2011 adopted a Percent For Art ordinance requiring 1.33 percent of capitol improvement project budgets be set aside to support public art. In 2014, the council increased the amount to 5 percent, which arts leaders believe is the highest in the country.

“The message that sends is that art is a driver of the economy and the city recognizes that,” McCain said.

Public art has come to flourish in Ketchum with the Percent for Art funding implemented by the Ketchum Arts Commission under Claudia McCain’s direction.

“Art is a reflection of the culture,” McCain said. “It gives a visual stimulus. You can walk down the street and look at it.”

Arlene Schieven
Arlene Schieven

She means that literally. As in Boise, Ketchum has 16 utility boxes covered with art, five of these artworks on one street in its Art on Fourth street. Since 2014, Ketchum has translated four commemorative coin designs into 40 manhole covers. Last year, KAC launched the first Art Car – a Sun Valley Resort gondola wrapped in original art. Art works also rotate through City Hall.

The arts generate $8 million a year in Blaine County, which has 144 arts-related business, 7.4 percent of the businesses, McCain said.

Targeting marketing has brought the arts to the fore as never before.

“To me the arts have been given greater visibility in the last few years along with the rise of the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance,” Teisinger said. “In the last two years, they have been putting more attention on events.”

Shieven confirms she has given arts marketing increased focus in the past two years with new approaches to print, postcards, online campaigns, and advertising.

“We are doing a lot more storytelling and content marketing, not just a simple ad,” said Schieven, citing examples: “’Here are five great cultural things you don’t know about. Nine great things you can take in.’ We have an events campaign that includes all the arts and culture (targeting Boise and Salt Lake City) that started two years ago.”

Blaine County has only 21,000 residents, but among them is Idaho’s largest concentration of wealth, many of these residents keen on the arts. The Sun Valley Summer Symphony itself has more than 75 donors giving at least $10,000 a year.

“It’s a really special community,” Teisinger said. “You have part-time residents who care about the arts. They want the arts to be here when they are here. They give because the concerts are here.  It definitely has risen up as more of a destination for people to experience the arts.”