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Post-Quake CalArts Gets Creative With Classrooms : Recovery: With up to $20 million in damage to the campus, classes are now held in unlikely locales--at a temple, in health clubs and at Magic Mountain.

March 09, 1994|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Donna Knudson, 26, a CalArts master's degree student in flute performance, is, as usual, practicing.

But instead of enjoying the privacy of a practice room, the Allentown, Pa., native stands in the front hall of Temple Beth Shalom, trying to hear her flute over background noise of students and faculty talking, performing and attending to the nebulous business of getting an arts education.

Temple Beth Shalom is only one of a number of locations that have become unlikely halls of academe for Valencia's California Institute of the Arts, an internationally renowned private arts school that was--almost literally--turned upside down when the Northridge earthquake rumbled through, leaving an estimated $15 million to $20 million in damage.

The temple has become a hub of the music school. Other new locations include "CalArts North," a vacant Lockheed research center in nearby Rye Canyon donated by Lockheed; the Magic Moments Theatre at Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park; the Santa Clarita YMCA; and a health club at the nearby Vista Village strip mall, where tanning salons have become dressing rooms for the drama department's costume shop. Each morning, dance students board a bus for Le Studio in Pasadena.

"While there are some small rooms at the temple (and Lockheed), they are not sound-isolated," said David Rosenboom, dean of the music school, during a conversation in his makeshift office trailer. "It's just a cacophony--everybody is playing all the time and it's just a sea of sound. You can't hear yourself think."

About a month after the quake, CalArts moved a giant step beyond the tent city that sprang up during the first week after the jolt. Faculty offices have been moved into trailers, and most classes resumed after a two-week hiatus--the term will be extended two weeks to make up for the unexpected break. Some students have left school--either temporarily or permanently--reducing the current student body from 1,000 to between 825 and 850. CalArts President Steven Lavine predicts fall 1994 enrollment will increase to just under 900.

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Those leaving were most numerous among music students bereft of practice space (or jazz students who followed suit after one or more members of their ensemble left), film students who have lost access to editing facilities and scared freshmen from back East. And, while the college sent out a reassuring letter to parents, a few out-of-towners demanded that their offspring leave faulty Southern California immediately.

Lavine said some students had asked for discounts off the average $13,875 yearly tuition but were denied--although they will receive on-campus housing discounts and two weeks free residence to accommodate the longer term. "The core of what we offer is not facilities; the core of what we offer is faculty," Lavine said. "You didn't come here to buy facilities; you came here to buy education."

Lavine and other faculty members stressed the resilience and creativity of the CalArts community. Some are encouraging students to pursue quake-related artwork. Film/video department faculty member Maureen Selwood has set up the Earthquake Project. With film donated by Kodak, two cameras are continually set up for students to use to capture their impressions, to be edited into a short film. "My idea was to get them involved in something they didn't have to pay for," Selwood said. "A lot of them were in shock or depressed or didn't know what to do with themselves."

Glenn Vilppu, acting director of the character animation department, the school's largest department, said students were worried about the loss of the screening room where they usually show their year-end animation "pencil test" projects to studio executives. "That's their meal ticket," he said. But he added that his department's camaraderie has helped students remain productive post-quake. "Our students are (in) an industry that is very cooperative," he said. "Some of the other schools tend to have a lot of loners."

Said Lavine: "I don't want to minimize this--it's hard. But I'd rather be facing this with art students than business students. . . . These students have the guts, they have the will to make their art."

Students remaining on campus offered a more mixed view of the situation, wryly citing a few situational advantages--such as lower student-to-faculty ratio--but concerned about inconveniences of the new situation--such as missed work-study program paychecks, or losing the cultural enrichment provided by campus activities and student performances. Some said they are staying only because this is their last term before receiving a degree.

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Christa Skinner, 23, a design student from Indiana, said she is worried about the future, but "it's like you've moved to a new school. It's not refreshing, exactly, but a change is kind of a good ground for generating new ideas."

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