Ryman Arts feeds the themed entertainment industry by nurturing talent at the high school level
interview by Martin Palicki
Ryman Arts is a non-profit organization that offers a rigorous, talent-based student art program to motivated high school students from some 150 neighborhoods throughout Southern California. Students have the opportunity for professional level art training, as well as college and career guidance at no cost to them or their families. The program comprises 40 different classes serving more than 600 students annually and can be a stepping stone to an arts career.
Ryman Arts was established in 1989 in honor of Herbert D. Ryman (1910-1989, pictured above), who encouraged young artists throughout his long career as an artist, designer, and Imagineer at Walt Disney Studios. Founders include Disney Legends Marty Sklar and the late Harrison “Buzz” Price.
Many familiar figures of the themed entertainment community are active within Ryman Arts today. InPark editor-in-chief Martin Palicki posed some questions to three of them: Ryman President Wayne Hunt (Wayne Hunt Design) and Board members Kathy Mangum (Walt Disney Imagineering) and Garner Holt (Garner Holt Productions).
How is Ryman Arts helping to equip the next generation of themed entertainment creatives?
Ryman Arts is providing students with fantastic instruction that hones their technical and artistic skills. It’s college-level instruction that just isn’t easily available to high school students. However, equally important are the more intangible skills that are being taught. Whenever I’ve observed a Ryman Arts class in session, I’ve been so impressed with the students’ ability to articulate how they’re approaching a piece of their work. They give clear and constructive critiques of others’ efforts, and they engage with their professors with a maturity that’s rare for kids their age. When they graduate from Ryman Arts, they have a self-confidence which they didn’t come in with. No matter what career path they choose, artistic or otherwise, the skills obtained at Ryman Arts give them a fantastic head start.
You have a deep and rich history as an Imagineer with Disney. Can Ryman Arts training help young artists find a path into the attractions industry?
One thing I love about Ryman Arts is that the students get exposure to many career options and opportunities that utilize artists and creative people. The concept of the “starving artist” flies out the window! Ryman Arts students are already highly motivated kids – they’re willing to attend class on weekends, they complete homework (along with their regular school homework) and they’re expected to perform at a very high level. These traits and qualities are echoed by the professionals at Walt Disney Imagineering – we expect the most out of ourselves and I see the same expectations and high standards in our Ryman Arts students.
Themed Entertainment encompasses much more than art in its traditional sense. The industry integrates theme parks, museums, architecture, and much more. How does Ryman Arts prepare students for visual storytelling?
Ryman Arts puts students on the path that Herbert Ryman himself followed – techniques and tools to transport audiences anyplace, to locations both familiar and exotic and filled with compelling characters. It does so by teaching students to think of scenes and compositions as a fully-encompassing world – the way Herb did in film, to his aerial drawing of Disneyland, and in the thousands of images he created for everything from circuses to castles.
Those with an aptitude for this approach – young artists with an eye for the experiential design marketplace, equal parts vision and talent – are the kind of people we at Garner Holt Productions, and other creative companies, are constantly on the lookout for. At GHP we primarily focus our creative design on characters, with their related environments (in rides, shows, exhibits, shops or restaurants) as a complementing effort. Our attractions at theme parks and other venues around the world are all about immersive and transporting magic – all that begins with an artist translating the spark of an idea onto paper, or into pixels. From there, we can actually build the sets, scenes, and animatronics that inhabit a make-believe world made real.
It is crucial for industry up-and-comers to understand the importance of cross-discipline collaboration. Do Ryman Arts students learn to integrate art with other disciplines?
Unlike stage plays or film, theme parks are liminal environments through which guests will walk, float, roll, or even fly. An interdisciplinary approach is key to creating a successful environment or attraction – the architect working hand-in-hand with the landscape designer, the lighting designer with the ride systems engineer, the animatronics fabricator with the costumer, plus so much else. Themed entertainment, perhaps more than any other form of popular recreation, is all about the reconciliation of hundreds of differing visual and tactile cues in everything from idyllic gardens to thrilling ride-through attractions.
It’s this combination of artistic skill and technical prowess that, we feel, makes a designer better able to think about a project’s many parts and to contribute more widely. Ryman Arts is the leading incubator for them.
A couple of years ago, we hired Jojo Leovonchiong, a Ryman Arts alumna. She fits into that multi-talented group perfectly—a trained and accomplished artist in pencil, and a talented animatronic engineer in pixels.
The creative entertainment field is constantly evolving. Tell us about the college and career guidance Ryman Arts offers to its students.
A key goal of Ryman Arts is to help get our kids to college, regardless of the field they elect or career they choose. Our resources and support include guest speakers, college days, career days and tours of creative businesses. Ryman Arts also has developed relationships with creative companies to create internships solely for Ryman Arts youth where students can work alongside professionals, most with college backgrounds. As many Ryman Arts students are the first in their families to go to college, these interactions and opportunities have lasting impact before, during, and after college.
Does Ryman Arts help students gain the skills necessary to handle real world experience and adversity along the career path?
People in all creative fields can face adversity and challenges throughout their careers. Going through the Ryman Arts program is a head start to the personal growth and maturity needed in college and in a creative career. Ryman Arts classes emphasize collaboration, constructive criticism, public speaking and pride of creation – as well as simple responsibility. Our kids learn how to work hard and put in their best effort regardless of circumstance. These are life-long attributes that continue to serve students long after graduating from the program. • • •