Idyllwild Arts: Superstars

Published : Monday, October 23, 2017 | 2:06 PM

Walk three or four minutes uphill from Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Rush Hall performance venue, or from the $6.1 million William M. Lowman Concert Hall, to the giant water tanks. Continue another fifty yards uphill to a forest clearing big enough for a twelve-by-twelve single-story building, its exterior painted with planets and other celestial bodies by Audrey Carver, a May 2017 Visual Arts graduate from the Academy who now studies at Tufts University.

The structure sits behind half a dozen square concrete slabs that you might take for helipads built by a toy-airplane enthusiast.

“Those are for stargazing through the smaller telescopes stored inside,” Ryan Strickland explains. “The big one inside is for photography.”

Ryan, who teaches physics as well as astronomy, had already retracted the peaked roof.

“This,” he said, pointing to the Orion Atlas telescope, “is mounted on more than twelve hundred pounds of poured concrete. You can see that the pillar”—the telescope’s support passed through a wide circle cut in the floor—”is independent of the building, so it’s not affected by the building’s movements. That’s essential to the multi-hour-long exposures needed in astrophotography.”

“Ryan and I built most of it,” added Dean of Students Justin Barrett. “But we got a lot of help: from Becky Sandlin [Lead RN and Health Center Director for the campus] and her husband, Dave, who donated a generator for several weeks, and with construction, too, from faculty members like Maggie Lam and Reina Meek.”

Maggie had been a math teacher and is now Director of Attendance and Advisory, while Reina chairs the Mathematics and Science Department.

Ryan, Justin, Maggie, and Reina know that the observatory’s most obvious benefits are to students in Ryan’s astronomy classes. But they also appreciate the fact that the dazzling views of the heavens supply another means for the Academy’s teenage artists to discover inspiration in the natural world.


Idyllwild Arts, 52500 Temecula Road, Idyllwild, CA 92549-0038, (951) 659-2171 or visit





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