Naperville, IL

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Same Programming, New Name! Academy of the Arts is now Illinois Conservatory for the Arts

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impact • june 10–14

impact • August 5–9

Academy of the Arts seeking Naperville location for its new full-time school, which could open by 2025

A private school for the performing and visual arts could open in Naperville by August 2025.

The Academy of the Arts is looking to build a school for middle and high school students that is on par with the Chicago Academy for the Arts and is committed to providing both a high level arts curriculum and a rigorous academic education.

“In Illinois, there’s only one place, one school that students can go to for a focus in the arts. We wanted to create something in the suburbs where students can have that in-depth experience, learn from professionals and really have the arts provide the same amount of significance as the rest of their classes,” said Dylan Ladd, one of the founders of the Academy of the Arts nonprofit.

Ladd said the group was searching for the best location north between Interstate 80 to the south and Milwaukee and Madison in Wisconsin to the north.

“We knew we wanted it in this region. … We just wanted to find where this would be successful, where there is a need for it, and Naperville came back with a resounding ‘this is the place,’” Ladd said.

The Academy of the Arts researched demographic components such as the number of families with income that could pay private school tuition, a community that actively supports of the arts, and a high number of students in middle and high school with a passion for the arts.

He estimated Naperville has roughly 40,000 families that fit the criteria, and about 150,000 families with children that could potentially become students live within 45 minutes of the city.

The school itself will be open to students in grades 6-12 and will focus on vocal and instrumental music, music production, theater, technical theater, visual arts, animation, illustration and dance.

Naperville civic leader Bev Patterson Frier, who was behind multiple plans to bring a performing arts center to the city, said she supports the academy. “This will be a fantastic addition to our entire region,” she said.

One of the big advantages for parents, Patterson Frier said, is that students can attend school and explore their chosen art field in the same location.

Patterson Frier recalls picking up her two children from their respective schools and driving to Chicago for their arts lessons. “I waited until the classes were over, and then drove them home in heavy rush traffic,” she said.

Director of Arts DuPage Deborah Venezia said the prospect of opening the Academy of the Arts in Naperville is an exciting one.

“The city is ripe for a progressive educational institution that integrates the positive impact of the arts on academic achievement,” Venezia said.

Students will develop a capacity for cognitive thinking, communication, self-confidence and problem-solving skills, which will better prepare them for the college experience and further their success in professional careers in the arts, she said.

“I love the idea of students having the opportunity to really move forward in the arts,” Venezia said.

Ladd said the goal of the Academy of the Arts is when students graduate, “they’re at the top of their game ready to enter into the world.”

“When you’re auditioning for colleges and things like that, we want our students to be ahead of what a regular student would be because we’ve giving them extra preparation,” he said.

While the arts will be at the academy’s core, Ladd said the school still will provide a strong foundation in language arts, math, history and science.

“Naperville has one of the top school districts in the whole country,” Ladd said. “We’re not going to sacrifice your academics. That’s really important too.”

To achieve a balance, Ladd said the school may offer a slightly longer day to allow students to take more arts classes. “We’ve also talked about ways that we design our curriculum to tie the arts into all their classes,” such as creative writing and script writing courses as a part of language arts, Ladd said.

No specific site has been purchased nor have architectural drawings been developed yet, Ladd said.

The plan, he said, is to finalize a site this year and work with an architect to get basic designs and firm up construction costs. The next phase would be fundraising and construction with an aim of welcoming students in August 2025.

Besides classrooms, the centerpiece of the academy will be the performance space and art galleries, something Ladd said is lacking in Naperville.

“One thing that’s really important to us is having professional facilities, including a performance space,” Ladd said.

Ladd, who met with people involved in the Naperville arts scene like Patterson Frier and Venezia, said while North Central College and the schools have space, arts organizations are all fighting for these spaces and there’s such a limit.

Besides providing a state-of-the art auditorium, a gallery and dance studios, the facility also can be a community art center, Ladd said.

“During the school day it will be the place where our students are working. But at night, it’ll be where we’re bringing professional groups in to actually perform and be part of the community for the arts,” he said. “I know Naperville really has been looking for something like that because there really is nothing, other than the college.”

Ladd said a school for the arts is needed more than ever because industries related to the arts are expanding and creating a demand for workers. He said the need is so great that people can afford to work professionally as artists.

As an example, Ladd said, the base pay for union members on Broadway productions is $2,000 a week for those in an ensemble.

While demand for professional artists is increasing, many schools are cutting back on music and visual arts programs, he said.

When students are struggling in the areas of reading and math, the arts generally are the first things to go, he said, “even if they’re not fundamentally taken out of a school’s offerings.”

“It’s definitely something that’s shifting in society right now and has been for the past 10 or so years,” Ladd said.

Venezia agrees. “To me it’s just such a sad statement because the arts and humanities are so important to our education,” she said.

She added the number one skill employers are looking for is the creative mind. “It helps with creative problem-solving and finding new solutions,” Venezia said.

session 1 • june 10–14, 2024

session 2 • August 5–9, 2024

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