Amber Pairis, Visual Arts ’92

Idyllwild Arts Academy graduate Dr. Amber Pairis, of the Class of 1992, directs the Climate Science Alliance and has a leading role in developing the 2019 Southwestern Tribal Climate Change Summit, coming to the Idyllwild Arts campus August 13-16. At Idyllwild Arts Academy she concentrated on photography. She has taken to heart the Idyllwild Arts Mission of “changing lives through the transformative power of art.”

She passionately wants to change lives with her efforts to combat the effects of climate change, whether with the Climate Science Alliance or in her new role to start the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation.

“The pieces to promote resilience to climate change are out there,” Dr. Pairis insists, “but it’s time to put the puzzle together.”

Nicole Stromsoe

“It was very The Devil Wears Prada,” says Nicole Stromsoe.

The 2003 Idyllwild Arts Academy graduate was talking about a job she had several years ago. This was before she began making a career of singing with her band (, often in the San Luis Obispo area of California’s Central Coast that she calls home.

“I ran a small fashion-design house for a celebrity wife. It would be mean to say her name.”

A packed weekend of performances around San Luis Obispo and a few hours north, in Gilroy, had exhausted her. After that, the flu had struck. Yet working for the celebrity wife was funny in hindsight, and she was warming up to recounting the horrors.

“She might call from Paris in the middle of the night and ask me to get her a taxi. It convinced me I didn’t want to be part of Hollywood, and I got sick from the stress.”

But Nicole’s laughter suggests that she’s a glass-half-full type. What’s this glass half-full of?

“I learned a lot about business.”

Knowledge that she may soon begin applying to teaching yoga–“I’m finishing yoga teacher training”–and that surely hasn’t hurt the music career for which she was trained by the Academy and by Berklee College of Music, in Boston.

“We just did our first tour, up in Mendocino County. And we’re recording and starting to play different festivals.”

Including Whale Rock (, in Paso Robles this September, where Nicole and her band will perform tunes coming from jazz, soul, old R & B singers like Ruth Brown, folk, and old-time country, plus “my original material that I guess you’d call ‘art songs.’ But we play every song with our own sound.”

After finishing Berklee, in 2010, Nicole “debated staying out there”—meaning New York rather than Boston—”but I had no connections.”

Her decision to come home looks like a good one.

Clay Alexander ’94

Drop into a Starbucks and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll run across something invented by Clay Alexander, who graduated from Idyllwild Arts Academy in 1994.

Nearly 4,600 Starbucks stores carry the temperature control Ember Ceramic Mug (named by TIME magazine as one of the best inventions of 2017), and about a thousand stores carry the Ember Travel Mug.

Ember, Clay’s Southern California-based company, reflects both his interests in lighting that he brought to the technical side of Academy theatre productions, and his interest in the transformative power of temperature control – cumulating in a new category of consumer products.

Idyllwild was where Clay’s love of technology grew. “I started inventing things with erector sets when I was two or three and during my time at Idyllwild Arts Academy I started to focus on the art behind the inventions,” said Clay Alexander. ”This artistic point of view is reflected in our design-led products that are both useful and beautiful.”

Reflecting on his time at the Academy, Clay remembers it as, “an awesome place for a day student who enjoyed staying on campus until late at night before walking home. For the theatre productions I wasn’t just arranging the light, I was arranging the light in a way that would produce exactly the artistic effect that our director wanted.”

His inventing continued after graduation. Clay currently holds more than eighty patents worldwide and he is the inventor of General Electric’s LED light bulb, the GE Infusion™.

In addition to the temperature control mugs, Ember is developing additional temperature control products including a baby bottle that eliminates the need to heat milk on the stovetop and test it on your wrist, as well as a dinner plate that will put an end to overheating and drying out leftovers in your microwave.

Looking even further ahead, Clay is also developing products outside of the consumer goods realm, in order to impact the lives of people all over the globe. The company is exploring temperature control containers to transport vaccines and other medications in order to help poor communities where electricity for refrigeration is intermittent or doesn’t exist – not just making life a little easier, but saving lives.

Adam Glick ’02

Adam Glick, the first Idyllwild Arts Academy graduate to serve on Idyllwild Arts Foundation’s Board of Governors, has begun his service by “listening first, suggesting and acting second.”

The 2002 Classical Piano graduate joined the Board early this year and has focused on “absorbing the history of the institution and how it has functioned.”

The Academy functioned beautifully for Adam, providing a “great experience” that included private lessons from Dr. Douglas Ashcraft, who’s still full-time on the Music Faculty.

Adam “would love to re-energize” the chamber group he used to play with. But the career that made him an attractive Board of Governors candidate doesn’t leave a lot of time for the piano. He is Senior Development Officer for the Brooklyn Museum, whose team of twenty-plus members is charged with raising some $40 million every year.

“It’s New York’s second-biggest museum after the Met in both collection and footprint. Our new director, Anne Pasternak, is leading a push to involve younger artists in Brooklyn and throughout the city, so it’s an exciting place to work.”

After growing up in Palm Desert and graduating from Idyllwild to UC Santa Barbara to double-major in Music and in Art History, Adam has lived in New York for a decade.

“I specialized in the history of twentieth-century painting for my Master’s from NYU—though I’m absolutely not a painter myself!—and worked at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison Square Park, and the Marian Goodman Gallery before coming to the Brooklyn Museum last year.”

Returning to California for periodic Board meetings keeps Adam connected to a school for which he acts as an “ambassador” in New York.

“When people visit the Museum and say they’d like a more extended artistic experience, I say, ‘There’s this little town in Southern California. . .’”

Annette Haywood-Carter,
Film & Digital Media Chair

Bringing only a pen and paper to record Annette Haywood-Carter’s thoughts had been a bad idea. Interviewing the old-school way requires frequent stops, but Annette’s enthusiasm for her job swept her along like an express train. She had just finished her second year as Chair of Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Film & Digital Media Department.

“Being two hours from Los Angeles sets us apart,” she said. “And personal relations make all kinds of opportunities possible for the students.”

She meant her own relations with prominent filmmakers and actors. Born in Mississippi and raised in Macon, Georgia, she began her Hollywood career in the 1980’s, as script supervisor on dozens of big-budget films, including Driving Miss Daisy, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Cliffhanger, and The Flintstones. After a number of the celebrated producers who worked with Annette supported her ambition to direct, she made her debut in 1994 with The Foot Shooting Party, in which she directed Leonardo DiCaprio.

Steven Spielberg took notice and invited her to direct an episode of the NBC science-fiction series, SeaQuest DSV. In 1996 came Foxfire, based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang. Annette’s direction of a then-unknown Angelina Jolie as the rebellious Margaret “Legs” Sadovsky is often credited with launching Jolie’s career.

Annette’s decision to raise her children close to her Georgia home led to several years of teaching in the Film and Television program at Savannah College of Art and Design. One fruit of her stint there was time to research the legend of Ward Allen, the elusive “Buffalo Bill of the Savannah River,” who vanished beneath its waters in 1927. She resigned her teaching job to direct Jim Caviezel, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Sam Shepard in a script she co-authored, and Savannah was released in 2013.

For the third time during the interview, she changed her position in the overstuffed chair in the Academy’s Admission Office. But the pleasure of the chair couldn’t equal her pleasure in talking about the school’s Film & Digital Media Department.

“The term ‘digital media’ covers everything that’s going on—digital media is where the present is.”

Her excitement brought her, literally, to the edge of her chair.
“A lot of new equipment purchases have been made so that our students can always take advantage of the latest developments. For example, we’ve added Moving Magic production software and AVID editing.”
She changed her position again.
“Did I already mention that we’ve put in a film-scoring program?”
She probably had, since the old pen-and-paper way of taking notes could have missed half of what she’d said. But Annette’s creative mind seemed to move at the ideal supersonic speed for the film-loving teenagers she teaches: just fast enough to stay a step ahead of them, and therefore lead them to the far reaches of their artistic potential.

Kim Henderson, Creative Writing Chair

“I might be willing to try play-writing at some point, or a young-adult novel. I want to try new things, like my students do!”

Being as good as Kim Henderson is at doing familiar things entitles you to confidence in your ability to accomplish new things. Some recent evidence of what has become Kim’s familiar success in producing literary fiction was the appearance of her short story, “Night Window,” in The Kenyon Review (

Kim is Chair of Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Creative Writing Department. Her prize-winning collection of very short stories, The Kind of Girl, appeared in 2013, and her next major publication may be a novella about an El Paso family. Raised in New Mexico, she knows the Southwest intimately.

How can her students develop comparable skills?

“For one thing, I tell them over and over to include a lot of sensory details so that readers can see the universal in the particular.”

She pauses to smile. She does this frequently, yet each smile comes as a surprise because she so often looks absorbed by serious thought, as she had a moment before. Those frequent, surprising smiles are reminders of how much she loves working with the Academy’s aspiring teenage writers in the school’s smallest arts department, with twelve majors this past year.

“You have the students for a number of years and really get to know them. It’s like a family. Our students are pretty dedicated, and in a small department, peer pressure to create good work is strong. I rarely feel like I’m coming to work. I’m coming to be with people who like writing and reading. In many ways, these students are like grad students except they’re much more open and willing to try things.”

Preparing for her May 8 appearance in the Spotlight on Leadership series sponsored by the Associates of Idyllwild Arts Foundation, in Nelson Dining Hall’s Fireside Room, Kim reflected on her ten years at the Academy. Course offerings have expanded broadly during that time so that students would have more specific writing alternatives.

“”We try to expose the students to everything they will encounter as writers,” she said. “We teach poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, and dramatic writing, which includes playwriting and a new offering, writing for television.”

Kim’s department also gives students the chance to collaborate in publishing Parallax (, editing sections of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. In addition, students publish a literary newsletter.

Many of her students can’t imagine their lives without writing, and Kim knows that writing can be a calling as much as a career.

“I think of something the poet Richard Hugo said: ‘A creative-writing class may be one of the last places you can go where your life still matters.’”

Bonnie Carpenter, Theatre Chair

It was 20 years ago this summer that Todd and I drove across the country to embark on our first big married adventure. We were only married 2 years at that point, living in a 400 sq. foot apartment in graduate school, and had NO idea about this little town of Idyllwild, CA. One summer turned into two and when 2 full time jobs opened up, Angelina Burnett (our housemate for those two summers) said, “Don’t stay. If you do, you will never leave.” We didn’t believe her at the time, but one year turned into two… and you know the rest.

Over the years I have held many different titles. Currently full time as the theatre department chair, I’ve been able to take time to reflect on the many students that have come through the doors of Bowman theatre over the past decades. Each fall brings new challenges, opportunities, and relationships. While I am certain I have made mistakes over the years, I too have grown up at Idyllwild Arts. Whether saying the wrong thing or failing to say anything, I have learned about the importance of this school and arts education. I’ve had the pleasure to watch kids come to understand academic subjects, gender and sexual identity, addiction, love, and most importantly for me, art. Before Idyllwild, I did not understand the incredible complexity of the role of “teacher” at a boarding school. I really thought I was hired to teach classes in theatre design, theatre history, or how to get into college. I have since learned that this job is much different.

Each and every alumni has taught me so much more. I have learned about different cultures and living away from home and family at 14 years old. I have learned about adults having to set boundaries while simultaneously trying to teach kids how to break them. I’ve learned how important and significant the words of a mentor are to young adults. And I hope I have learned how to be a better parent because of the experiences I have shared with the students who have given me that privilege.

I am grateful for every tear cried in the bowels of Bowman or the foyer of Rush. I am grateful for the hours of weekend duty in a stuffy MacNeal dormitory office. I am grateful for the “Stich and Bitch” under the awning, the curse words shared opening the tanks to prop storage, or Sunday brunch in the dining hall. Thank you to each and every one of you who has created my “Idyllwild Arts” story.

Abbie Bosworth, InterArts / Fashion Design Chair

Few people immediately understand what we do in our diverse and interdisciplinary department. But perhaps our lack of clarity, instead of something to be bemoaned, is one of our strengths. When I first became Chair of the InterArts Department, I considered whether we suffered from a branding issue: not being visible enough, not having a clear enough name. I thought about changing the name of the department.

InterArts comprises the Fashion Department, where students follow a neatly defined track, exercising their fashion and design skills, learning pattern making, accessories, including jewelry, hat and shoe making, fashion history, and producing surprising and gorgeous sculptural garments for our fashion shows. We have at least a three-year track record of having all our senior fashion students go on to either Parsons School of Design, in Manhattan, or Central Saint Martins, part of the University of the Arts London.

Now for the complicated part: InterArts students who are not fashion students. But I don’t want to define them by what they are not. InterArts students forge their own pathways through the school, taking classes in different art departments. They may define themselves as storytellers, performers, designers, or digital communicators. All InterArts students learn to relate their art to issues in the outside world.

Most of my InterArts students care about social justice, politics, and saving our planet from environmental disaster. We practice our art as a form of expression and communication, for whatever power that may have. There are as many definitions of InterArts as there are InterArtists themselves, as each one follows a slightly different pathway, guided by his or her own unique obsessions and skills.

InterArts is ambiguous, but its lack of neat definition allows for a myriad of diverse artists to interpret and interact, for their projects to intersect, for their art to intercede in the issues of the day, and for interplay between personalities, talents, and intellects. And I think that is the way I like it.

Ellen Rosa Taylor, Dance Department Chair

A career as a professional dancer is one of the most physically difficult and often one of the shortest because of injuries and stress on the body. And yet it is one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring of the arts to watch and, judging by the devotion of dancers, one of the most satisfying careers to experience.

Idyllwild Arts Academy Dance Department Chair Ellen Rosa Taylor started dancing at age 6, and at 13, told her mother she wanted to become a professional dancer. “I was always focused,” said Ellen. “I loved to be in the studio and never minded spending the time.”

Ellen studied ballet primarily until grad school. She received a bachelor’s degree in ballet from Indiana University on a dance scholarship and a master’s degree in fine arts in dance from Florida State University with a university fellowship and dean’s teaching fellowship. “In graduate school, I began studying contemporary dance,” she recalled. “If you have strong ballet and strong contemporary, you’re more employable. The more versatile you are, the more you can work.”

Ellen acknowledged the challenges facing any dancer in finding not just work, but the right work. “The challenge is in the career aspect, finding the right person to work for that supports you as an artist. You want to get somewhere you can do the roles you want to do. The first couple of years, finding your path in the art form can be difficult.”

Ellen has danced professionally with the City Ballet of Los Angeles, the Chattanooga Ballet Company, the Charleston Ballet Theater and La Danserie in California. Having taken the American Ballet Theater (ABT) National Training Curriculum Certification Program, she has always blended teaching with performing. “You learn more about your own artistry when you teach others,” she observed.

Since taking over the IAA Dance Department in 2009, Ellen has instituted the ABT curriculum of training for the department. “The ABT curriculum is now starting to show itself in our dancers,” she said. “They all have the same foundation. It’s not over the top, not affected and they have good technique. We make sure our dancers have strong ballet and strong contemporary.”

As department chair, Ellen is responsible for writing the curriculum for the academy’s pre-professional dance program, as well as non-major dance classes. She teaches beginning through advanced ballet technique, variations, pointe, pas de deux and dance conditioning. She recruits for the department and writes grant proposals for dance master classes and dance residencies. She also mentors students about their college or professional dance options. She has shaped and built a highly respected program, reflected by the acceptance of academy dance graduates into prestigious companies and universities.

Asked how it feels to be a dancer, Ellen said, “When performing, it’s your passion. When you wake up and go to work, it’s what you want to do. It’s not work. It’s a great life of passion and beauty — to dance, to choreograph and to teach.

“The transition from dancing professionally to teaching full-time was pretty easy. Coming here facilitated that transition. I never feel regret because I get to work with such amazing students.”
Ellen and family are now full-time Idyllwild residents.

For more about Ellen Rosa Taylor, visit

Reprinted with permission from the Idyllwild Town Crier.
Article by Marshall Smith, Staff Reporter 2/17/2016

Laura Holliday ’11

Would you die if you couldn’t laugh?

Flattened by the world’s tragedies, could you muster the strength to get up if you thought the gloom would last forever? Was Will Ferrell thinking “No way” when he cofounded Funny or Die?

Or is analyzing the name of one of the comedy websites for which Laura Holliday directs videos being too serious?

“I don’t like taking myself seriously,” admits the 2011 Idyllwild Arts Academy alum, subsequently a graduate of The Second City Los Angeles and Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre.

Let’s ignore what she says and ask her a really serious question: were “Splitting Rent with Your Childish Roommate,” “Ordering Pizza with Your Childish Roommate,” and “Borrowing Clothes from Your Childish Roommate” inspired by someone else who would be remembered in Idyllwild? Can’t she tell us who her childish roommate was?

Politely overlooking her interviewer’s bad manners, Laura steers their conversation back on course.

“I love comedy, and now that I’m writing, directing, and acting in comedies, I’m doing exactly what I want, although on a small scale. My goal is to sustain this in TV or independent features.”

That’s no joke. Besides shorts like “The First Month,” Laura is already directing her first feature, which she scripted. The romantic comedy Daddy Issues showcases her talent for communicating with actors, which “comes pretty naturally to me.”

It is a precious gift for a director who must put performers at ease so they can be funny.

What aspect of directing does not come naturally?

“Visuals and working with a cinematographer. But practicing at ArtCenter College of Design”—in Pasadena, where she plans to graduate next spring—“has helped me think visually. Now it’s something I love.”

Jealous that Laura’s career is taking off? You’ll feel better if you remember she’s just a “Sad Lonely Girl” with “Attachment Issues.”