SVMoA Blog

Claudia McCain on the Importance of the Arts in Our Community

October 24, 2023
Claudia McCain

This month, we are highlighting longtime Wood River Valley resident Claudia McCain, who’s been deeply involved in so many aspects of the arts during her more than four decades here. From acting and directing on the stage to running a gallery and serving as a member and chair of many arts organizations, Claudia is one of the reasons arts and culture thrive in our community! SVMoA Curator Courtney Gilbert sat down with Claudia to talk about her history here and the many ways she’s participated in and supported the arts.

When did you arrive in the valley? How did you get involved in the arts during your early years here?

I first started to vacation here in 1965 with my family and moved permanently in 1979. My family started visiting because my mother, who had grown up in Manhattan, had a favorite teacher in boarding school, Dorice Taylor, who became head of publicity for Sun Valley Resort. My grandmother and mother came out to visit “Mrs. T” in 1946, and on that trip, my mother decided she would live here someday. My grandmother was an artist, and she enjoyed drawing and painting while she was here.

In college, I took classes through the Sun Valley Center for the Arts during the summers. I took glassblowing and a class in clay. You didn’t see as much art here at the time, but there was a group of women who painted and showed at a gallery where the Elephant’s Perch is now. When I moved back, I worked for The Center at the gallery with Mary Rolland for a number of months, and I also worked at Nancy Stonington’s gallery briefly with Wendy Jaquet, who ran it. In 1980, I started doing theater with Laughing Stock Theatre. My degree is in studio art, but I did take some theater in college, and when I started performing with Laughing Stock, I thought, “This is my creative home.” That cemented it. I quit making art and devoted myself to theater. I worked with them for years and years and with other companies, like Sun Valley Repertory and New Theater Company.

What kind of art did you make?

I studied sculpture but was more of a constructivist and interested in conceptual art. I made multimedia pieces. The last piece I made was a metal and fabric piece around the idea of women. I might go back to it someday.

Tell me about the gallery you ran.

My mother and I bought it together in 1985 and had it for twelve years. Its focus was on fine craft and mid-career artists. I was part of the Gallery Association with Minette Broschofsky, Gail Severn, and Kristin Poole. We actually wrote the first bylaws for the SVGA together.

What different ways have you been involved in theater over the years?

I got my equity card in 2000 and have acted throughout my time in the valley in at least 80 productions. I think I became involved with Company of Fools around 1997 and worked a lot with them. I directed, too, but not as much. I directed Red last year — it was a lot of fun because it combined my love of theater and art. I’ve done a reading with the Spot. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunities that I’ve been given here. They’ve been amazing.

I was at the NexStage the day it was originally purchased — an old car dealership. I saw the basement and thought, “Oh no!” But they did it and made it a theater. I’m currently the board president of The Liberty Theatre Company. I think there are a lot of exciting things happening for TLTC, especially with new Executive Director Naomi McDougall Jones. We’ve taken another leap forward. I’m grateful to the Museum for helping us launch the company and giving us the seed money to get it off the ground. I’m also on the advisory board of the Sun Valley Playwright’s Residency. I’m excited about what’s happening for all the theater companies in the valley. This community has a great passion for theater, which thrills me. There’s so much enthusiasm for theater here right now.

What are some of your favorite roles from past productions?

Some of my favorites have been Vivian Bearing in Wit, Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, Sylvia in Sylvia, and Janine in The Niceties.

Claudia McCain as Janine in The Niceties; photo credit Kirsten Shultz

Claudia McCain as Janine in The Niceties; photo credit Kirsten Shultz

You’ve devoted huge amounts of time and effort to multiple arts nonprofits — can you talk about your history with some of the organizations you’ve worked with?

I was on the Chamber of Commerce board and was the chair from 1993 to 1994. During the time I was chairing that, Wendy Jaquet and I created an arts calendar, which was the beginning of the Wood River Arts Alliance, the arts council for the valley. Hilarie Neely and I kept it going for 21 years until it was disbanded. Through all those years, Hilarie and I served on the board. We worked with the Idaho Commission on the Arts and with Sustain Blaine (now the Sun Valley Economic Forum). We put together yearly meetings and worked with organizations like Idaho Travel Council and Idaho Commission on the Arts (ICA). Around 2005 or 2006, Randy Hall, who was then mayor of Ketchum, asked me to help create an arts commission for the city. I worked with colleagues like Kristin Poole, Gail Severn, Barbi Reed, Susan Ward, and Mark Johnstone. We spent a year in discussion about the form the Ketchum Arts Commission would take and presented it to the city. It became part of Ketchum Community Development Corporation, and Jen Smith became the city liaison. Some of the early commissioners were Steve Pruitt, Adam Elias, Anne Winton, Marybeth Flowers, Trina Peters, and Nicole Brown. John Duval represented the KCDC. It was a fun group! We began to develop public art for the city. It was a learning process for all of us — an exciting journey. I’ve served several terms with them and just rolled off. The airport came to a group of us to ask about having art in the airport, so a group of us from the KAC and Hailey Arts Commission came together to launch the Airport Art Committee, which I’m still part of.

The Chamber used to give awards at a banquet every year, and I am humbled and honored to say that I was the first ever Arts Advocate of the Year in 1997.

What motivates you to work so hard to make sure the valley is a place with vibrant arts and culture?

I love this community so much, and it’s meant so much to me and to my life as an artist. Americans for the Arts says that arts should be available to every person — every man, woman, and child — and I really believe that. The more I can do to bring art to this community means so much to me. To have watched so many organizations evolve over the time I’ve been here — the Sun Valley Museum of Art and the Sun Valley Music Festival come to mind — has been so gratifying. And I’m seeing that now with theater. I want to help lift up all organizations in any way I can. My heart is with the arts in the Wood River Valley, and it will always remain so.

And finally, what kind of art do you live within your home?

I have paintings and sculptures by my grandmother and work by artists I’ve represented. It’s a wide mixture, from family heirlooms that are very special – paintings and drawings — to work by Wendy Weldon and Cie Goulet, whom I represented. Marybeth Flower’s photography. Art I grew up with as a child. None of the work I made — it was all too big!