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A Full House: Jewett Auditorium a beacon for performing arts in Idaho

Since its founding 124 years ago, The College of Idaho has pursued excellence in all disciplines. In many ways, the College’s success as an institution stems from the diverse opportunities it offers students in academics, in athletics and in the arts.

Over the years, the C of I campus has become a hub for the local community. The College’s vibrant arts scene, in particular, has led to strong community partnerships, bringing thousands of guests to campus every year to enjoy concerts, art galleries, plays, operas and all manner of performances.

The College of Idaho’s proud history of attracting outstanding performers—and a recent boom in expanding arts offerings on campus—suggests the College’s fine arts legacy will only continue to flourish and grow. And the cornerstone of the fine arts at the C of I lies within the historic foundation of Jewett Auditorium.

BUILDING THE CENTERPIECE  

While a passionate pursuit of the arts has been present since the College’s founding, the campus community wasn’t always fortunate enough to enjoy the performance spaces that exist today.

That changed in 1962, with the completion of Jewett Auditorium. Built to house a magnificent three manual pipe organ donated by the Jewett family, the auditorium gave the College a space dedicated to the arts. The finished building, which was constructed using funds from the Presbyterian Synod of Idaho and the Jewett Foundation, stood as the largest performance auditorium in the Pacific Northwest.

“What happened in the beginning was so amazing,” remembers Caldwell Fine Arts director Sylvia Hunt ’59. “The idea of Jewett was a great gift to the College and the community.”

Before Jewett was built, College performances were held in local churches and occasionally on the steps of Blatchley Hall or Sterry Hall. In 1956, conversation among C of I administrators and trustees began focusing on the idea of building a larger cultural center. The architects constructed Jewett to acutely enhance its acoustic capabilities—a gift still appreciated by performers and patrons today.

Even the builders still treasure the project. In 2006, architect Charles F. Hummel, called it “satisfying to know that it has served so well for so many years. Jewett was a great project.”

The construction of Jewett Auditorium led to the birth of Caldwell Fine Arts, an organization created to coordinate artists, advertise to local patrons and build relationships in the community. As the region’s premier performance hall, Jewett attracted groups from around the nation and world. And once performers experienced Jewett, they kept asking to come back.

Jewett Auditorium also served for many years as the College’s primary display space for art shows. The C of I art department produced annual exhibits, which were displayed in the foyer and lobby during fine arts performances. The department even instituted the Idaho High School Art Exhibition, a successful juried show that has since moved to Boise. In the 1980s, the College moved its art gallery presence to Blatchley Hall, but recent discussions have explored restoring the art gallery function to the Jewett corridors in the near future.

BOLSTERING THE COMMUNITY

The founding of Caldwell Fine Arts was the first of many artistic partnerships at the College. CFA has thrived, recently celebrating its Golden 50th Anniversary in 2011. CFA brings classical music performances, international dance groups, and even comedic shows to the Jewett stage, engaging the community and winning new generations of fans with each show.

“Our goal is for each audience member to have a really wonderful, special experience,” Hunt said. “We’ve been honored as a College to be associated with so many wonderful artists who have gone on to have incredible careers.”

As CFA has flourished, other arts organizations have sought to partner with the C of I. And the College has continued to build and nurture relationships that bring the most benefit to campus and the local community, supporting each collaboration with enthusiasm. 

“Our goal is to bring together resources for our local elementary and high school students,” said Tracylea Balmer ’02, the College’s director of special events. “We see assemblies and class trips dwindling because of funding, and most kids only get those types of experiences through school. We want to provide those quality community events so that everyone can have access.”

Just this year, Music Theatre of Idaho moved its shows to Jewett Auditorium and packed the house for its season-opening performance of Into the Woods. With seven more shows planned throughout the season, MTI is looking forward to becoming a regular part of the C of I calendar.  

“We can’t say enough about how supportive, proactive, and absolutely wonderful everyone has been at the College in just the short time we’ve been working here,” MTI CEO Jean Andrews said.

DreamWeaver Musical Theatre—an organization specifically dedicated to youth theatre in the Treasure Valley—also moved to Jewett this academic year. Between DreamWeaver and MTI alone, more than 200 talented members of the local community are working on fine arts shows in Jewett.

“Between MTI, student performances, Caldwell Fine Arts and DreamWeaver, there’s a lot happening here,” C of I music professor Dr. Paul Moulton said. “What’s great about it, too, is that these organizations don’t compete with each other—they complement one another.”  

BENEFITTING STUDENTS

In addition to local, national and international talent, the C of I arts scene is home to a wide variety of student ensembles. From choir concerts and the International Culture Show to operas and theatrical plays, Jewett Auditorium and the neighboring Langroise Center for the Performing and Fine Arts host scores of student performances each year.

Years ago, student government began including admission to campus shows as part of tuition costs, making each and every performance free for C of I students to attend. CFA, MTI and DreamWeaver also offer free tickets and special deals for students.

More often than not, the students in the crowd are cheering for their classmates on stage. Students of all ages, backgrounds and academic interests perform in plays, choir concerts, instrumental ensembles and more. Ambitious students even earn opportunities to compose, cast, market and direct their own shows.

“It’s a lot of fun to see students experience the things they’re interested in doing in the future,” C of I senior and choir member Nicole Bernard said. “It’s really unique that we have the opportunity to showcase our work to each other as undergraduate students.”

Those unique undergraduate opportunities have jumpstarted many successful careers in the arts. Examples abound, but one recent instance involves alumna Jordan Bowman ’14 and current senior Zachary Buker, who started their own opera company, Opera Elect. The enterprise already is succeeding both on campus and in the community. Both Bowman and Buker attribute their success to the foundation they received on campus.

“It’s such an awesome community where you can really find a role,” Bowman said. “Nothing is handed to you, but if you want it and work for it, you get the opportunity.”

Today, Jewett Auditorium no longer stands alone among performance halls in the Pacific Northwest. But The College of Idaho’s artistic legacy remains intact, thanks to the vision of the founders who made the arts a priority, the generosity of the donors who brought Jewett to life, and the artistic passion that to this day stirs in C of I students, faculty and staff. Their dedication ensures that, even as fine arts performances dwindle around the world, Jewett Auditorium in little Caldwell, Idaho, remains a mecca for experiencing, enjoying and celebrating the arts.