Chat Room: Molly Newman: Shepherding Students Toward The Arts – and Beyond

By Elena Epstein


Molly Newman, pictured with her husband, John, and daughters Lucy and Cecelia. PHOTO COURTESY MOLLY NEWMAN

Molly Newman was the kid who loved books, stories and writing. She followed her love for literature and started her career as a high school English teacher. As the Director of College Counseling for Idyllwild Arts Academy, she now helps students follow their passion for the arts to college and beyond. Idyllwild Arts, located in the pine-forested San Jacinto Mountains, is an internationally acclaimed residential arts high school with programs focusing on music, theater, dance, visual arts, creative writing, film and digital media and fashion design.

What’s the most important advice you give your students?

Have a flexible and open mindset. You have so many options, but you have to do the research to find the best fit for you. Beyond the conservatory route, you can go to a liberal arts college or a large university and double major or get a minor and combine your passion in dance, art or theater with a more academic degree such as psychology or business. Some of our students pursue non-arts majors in college and then find artistic outlets by joining a community theater, starting a blog or an Etsy shop. One of our students is working on his degree in environmental engineering at a large university and has joined a jazz combo.

What’s the first step in the college selection process?

Self-awareness. It’s a beautiful thing when you discover something that you’re willing to spend hours developing an expertise in. The value and the satisfaction of pursuing a degree and later a career in an area you truly enjoy is incalculable.

What should students look for when visiting a college?

Go to a performance. Visit the studios. Sit in on a class discussion. Talk to a few professors. Look at the students. There should be an intuitive awareness of,  “Are these my people?”

What about the cost of college and parents’ concern for lack of job opportunities for arts majors?

College is expensive and parents have a legitimate concern for wanting to maximize the return on their investment. I tell students and parents to respect each other and find a compromise. Investing $200,000 in a musical theater conservatory is not a realistic option for many families, but there are great theater programs at many public universities that cost a lot less.

What’s the biggest benefit of an arts education?

The importance of process and practice. It’s not about the moment on stage. It’s the long rehearsals, the countless hours of practice in the studio – those skills will serve students well in any career they choose.

What advice do you have for parents of younger kids?

I have two daughters and my husband is the Director of Business Operations at Idyllwild Arts. Our girls have a lot of exposure to the arts, but I want them to find what they love on their own. As parents, we should allow our kids to explore, give them the opportunity to fail and the autonomy to express their interests.

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