California Institute of the Arts | Los Angeles Conservancy
California Institute of the Arts
Photo by Scott Groller, copyright CalArts 2006

California Institute of the Arts

In the early 1960s, Walt Disney decided to create a new kind of institution of higher learning, devoted entirely to the visual and performing arts with no boundaries between disciplines.

He merged the existing Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and incorporated the California Institute of the Arts in 1961, making it the nation's first degree-granting program tailored to the creative arts. Disney hired architects Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey to design an appropriate campus plan for the collaborative new institution. Ladd & Kelsey were best known for their designs for Busch Gardens in Van Nuys and the Pasadena Museum of Art (now the Norton Simon Museum). They aimed for total designs that integrated landscape, buildings, and interior spaces.

To facilitate open communication between all forms of creative arts, the architects designed a unified complex that they called a "mega-building."

Completed in 1971, the CalArts complex contained theatres, galleries, workshops, studios, and reconfigurable classrooms, all designed to, as Ladd put it, "keep the various arts associating easily in rhythmic and random order." The Late Modern-style complex nestles into a landscape of rolling green hills and mature eucalyptus trees, continuing to serve as the home for a visionary interdisciplinary experiment.

Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy

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