In the early 1980’s it became apparent that California was facing increased competition from other states for its third-largest source of tax revenue, the arts and entertainment industries. Film, television and recording studio complexes, which had been traditionally developed in California, were being built in Florida, Texas, and other locales. Motion picture industry executives and producers were increasingly looking outside of the state for production opportunities. Many of California’s non-profit fine arts institutions, and the state’s educational community, were feeling the effects of a diminishing interest in California from the commercial arts sector.

A three-year effort to establish an educational environment for young California artists began in 1982. As a California Arts Council member appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, philanthropist Wendy Goldberg (pictured above, center) provided the leadership for public support of legislation sponsored by State Senator Alan Sieroty to launch a planning process. She enlisted Frank Rothman, Chairman and CEO of MGM, to mobilize the entertainment community on behalf of this initiative, which ultimately was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.

Under the leadership of Ms. Goldberg a twenty-four member Advisory Council chaired by Los Angeles cultural leader Joan Newberg consisting of legislative, arts, and industry leaders were appointed by the California Arts Council and the State Board of Education to explore the cause of the talent drain, and to recommend statewide educational opportunities. One of the problems the Council discovered was that many of California’s most talented young artists and entertainers were leaving the state to attend arts training programs in New York, North Carolina, Michigan, and other states – and staying on to live and work where they went to school.

The work of the committee culminated on September 28, 1985, when Governor George Deukmejian signed the bill, authored by State Senator John Garamendi, which created the California State Summer School for the Arts. The major objectives stated by the Legislature in establishing the school:

  • 1 To enable artistically gifted and talented students, broadly representative of the socioeconomic and ethnic diversity of the state, to receive intensive training in the arts through a multidisciplinary program;
  • 2 To provide a training ground for future artists who may wish to study and practice the arts or to pursue careers in the major performing arts companies and the commercial and fine arts institutions in California; and
  • 3 To establish a model for partnership between the public and private sectors.

CSSSA held its first summer session in 1987, and proved so popular and successful that Governor Deukmejian signed follow-up legislation making the program a permanent program of the state in September of 1990. In 1992, Governor Pete Wilson signed legislation that allows the school to accept a limited number of students from outside of California, thereby making it an international program.

The California State Summer School for the Arts is the result of unique public and private sector planning and support. Now embarking on its thirty-fifth summer of operation, the school has trained more than seventeen thousand highly talented students.