2015 Symposium

Our annual Symposium is driven by a belief in the power of art to transform individuals, communities, and social structures. You can read more about our sense of purpose and underlying motivations here.

The 2015 Symposium was a resounding success. Thank you to the Idyllwild Arts community, our esteemed guests, and the Arts Enterprise Laboratory for making it possible. Local media coverage can be found here and here.


Guests from the 2015 Symposium

Mariana Amatullo


Mariana Amatullo is the co-founder and current head of Designmatters at Art Center College of Design, a program where students work across disciplines to advance positive social change by applying good design to an array of social problems. Under her strategic leadership, Desingmatters has developed a dynamic portfolio of award-winning global educational projects, research collaborations and publications at the intersection of art, design education, and social innovation. As a result, Art Center was the first design institution to be affiliated as a non-governmental organization with the United Nations.

Mariana is an active author and essayist and lectures internationally on social impact design. She serves on a variety of advisory boards and networks engaged in the arts, design education, and social activism, including Design 21 (in partnership with UNESCO), Intelligent Mobility International (IMI), Cumulus (the International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media), and ideo.org. She is a founding member of the University of Southern California International Museum Institute and was part of the editorial committee for Beyond the Turnstile: Making the Case for Museums and Sustainable Values.  Mariana is also a Non-Profit Fellow with the Doctor of Management, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University. In 2012, Amatullo was the recipient of inaugural 2012 DELL Social Innovation Education Award for outstanding leadership in teaching and supporting student social innovators and was named to Fast Company’s Co. Design 50 Designers Shaping the Future, and the Public Interest Design 100.

Born in Buenos Aires, Mariana holds an M.A. in Art History and Museum Studies from the University of Southern California and a Licence en Lettres Degree from the Sorbonne University, Paris. She is also the proud mother of Nicolas Amatullo, senior theater major at Idyllwild Arts.


Claudia Rankine


Claudia Rankine is a nationally-renown poet and playwright. She currently holds a position as the Henry G. Lee Professor of Poetry at Pomona College and has previously taught at Case Western Reserve University, Barnard College, University of Georgia, and the University of Houston.

Claudia’s most recent book, Citizen: An American Lyric, has received critical acclaim and won the 2014 National Book Award. She has authored four other collections of poetry, including Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric, and Nothing in Nature is Private (1994), which won the Cleveland State Poetry Prize. Her poems have been included in the anthologies Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present (2003), Best American Poetry (2001), and The Garden Thrives: Twentieth Century African-American Poetry (1996).  Her work has been published in numerous journals including Boston Review, TriQuarterly, and The Poetry Project Newsletter. Rankine is coeditor of the American Women Poets in the 21st Century series with Wesleyan University Press and The Racial Imaginary with Fence Books.

Rankine has been awarded fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lannan Foundation. In 2013, she was elected as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and in 2014 she received a Lannan Literary Award and was awarded Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize.

Claudia is also the author of the plays Existing Conditions (co-authored with Casey Llewellyn) and Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue, a 2011 Distinguished Development Project Selection in the American Voices New Play Institute at Arena Stage. She is also the founder of the Open Letter Project: Race and the Creative Imagination, and co-produces a video series, “The Situation,” alongside John Lucas.

Claudia Rankine was raised in Kingston, Jamaica and New York City and earned a BA at Williams College and an MFA at Columbia University.


George Blake

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George Blake is a Doctoral Candidate in Ethnomusicology at UCSB. He studies the relation between race issues and music, particularly mid-19th century jazz. He has worked on numerous social justice campaigns involving issues of race, labor, and globalization.

George has worked as a Teaching Assistant for Music and Popular Culture in America, World Music, Race and Racism, Introduction to African American Literature and The Civil Rights Movement. Outside of the university, he has worked as a counselor at a youth music camp, a private piano instructor and co-taught a course on jazz at Niantic Correctional Facility. He has presented papers at events such as The Experience Music Project Pop Conference, The Annual Meeting for the Society of Ethnomusicology and the Guelph Jazz Festival. George has also participated in the Advanced Oral History Summer Institute at UC Berkeley and the Summer Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation at The University of Guelph.

George received his B.A. in African American Studies and Music from Wesleyan University and his M.A. in Ethnomusicology from UCSB, under the co-advisement of Tim Cooley and George Lipsitz.


John Pennington

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John Pennington is the Artistic Director of the Pennington Dance Group and ARC (A Room to Create) Pasadena. He serves as the Co-Director of the Lewitzky Dance Gallery and serves on the Theater and Dance faculty at Pomona College and on the dance faculty at Cal-State University Long Beach. 

 John enjoyed a 14-year career with the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company as a performer and master teacher.  (Bella Lewitzky founded the dance department at Idyllwild Arts Academy.) He then went on to be a guest artist, independent choreographer and educator before establishing his own award-winning dance group in 2000. More recently, he was among four choreographers chosen for the first Trolley Dances in Riverside CA and toured with his group in the United Kingdom.

Pennington is the recipient of several grants and awards from the Princess Grace Foundation, California Community Foundation, Goethe Institute, Durfee Foundation, Dance USA, Los Angeles County Arts Program and a HOTHOUSE choreographic residency.  He is honored to be the recipient of five Lester Horton Awards for achievement in dance including the award for Excellence in Teaching. He received a Backstage West Garland Award and a L.A. Weekly Theater nomination for achievement in choreography. Most recently, his oral history essay was featured in When Men Dance: Choreographing Dance Across Borders edited by Jennifer Fisher and Anthony Shay, published by Oxford University Press.

Educated at Northwestern University, California Institute of the Arts (BFA), and Hollins University (MFA), Pennington’s dedication to education includes workshops and curriculum development for the Los Angeles Unified School District, Fowler Museum, MOCA and Armand Hammer Museum. He served as an Annenberg Scholar in Dance Education for Inner City Arts LA and served on the Board of Directors for the Los Angeles Dance Resource Center and the Artist Committee for Dancers Responding to AIDS.

John’s dance company, the Pennington Dance Group, aspires to cultivate an understanding and love of dance through education in the schools and in the community, through national and international performances, and innovative programming. Collaborating with visual and performing artists of note, the Group creates and performs works that contain social, emotional, political, abstract, and scientific themes that appeal to a wide audience.


John David Mooney

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John David Mooney is an accomplished sculptor and has designed large-scale pieces encompassing architecture and landscape for such clients as the U.S. State Department, the Australian Government, the Vatican Observatory, the British Foreign Office, the Maltese government, IBM, and American Airlines. He was artist-in-residence at General Motors and for the State of Indiana.

John David’s work is featured in numerous private and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Art Institute of Chicago, and major museums in Europe. His commissions include Crystara, a sculpture created for the John Crerar Library at the University of Chicago; the Miami Wave, a piece designed for a new entrance to the Miami International Airport; Wild Ricing Moon, a sculpture honoring the native Americans for the University of Minnesota Duluth; and Spiral Galaxy, a sculpture located on the grounds in front of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. In addition, through his transformation of skyscrapers he has created a new art form in the urban landscape and an extraordinary vehicle for public participation. These works have been featured at events such as the Atlanta Olympics and the Australian Bicentenary.

John David has received honorary doctorates from Purdue University, Dominican University, and Lyon College. He has been the recipient of more than eight fellowships including the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts Fellowship, the Royal Society of the Arts Fellowship, and four fellowships from the MacDowell Colony.

John David has taught at numerous institutions throughout the United States and Europe. He was named a Distinguished Professor and Critic at the University of North Carolina’s College of Architecture and a Distinguished Professor and Scholar in the Fine Arts at the University of Southern Indiana. In Europe, he has taught at such institutions as the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, the Glasgow School of Art in Glasgow, and the Royal College of Art’s Graduate School of Art in London.

John David is the founder and current artistic director of the John David Mooney Foundation, dedicated to serving the community and finding ways to bring art out of museums and to the public en masse. For thirty years, the John David Mooney Foundation has operated as a laboratory for crossing boundaries between disciplines, facilitating understanding, and applying discovery.