In the early 1980's California was facing increased competition from other states for its third-largest source of tax revenue, the arts and entertainment industries. Film, television and recording studio complexes, which had traditionally been developed in California, were being built in Florida, Texas and other locales. Motion picture industry executives and producers were increasingly looking outside the state for production opportunities. Many of California's non-profit fine arts institutions, and the state's educational community, were feeling the effects of the commercial arts sector’s diminishing interest in California.
A three-year effort to establish an educational environment for young California artists began in 1982. As a California Arts Council member appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, philanthropist Wendy Goldberg led public support of legislation sponsored by State Senator Alan Sieroty to launch a planning process. She enlisted Frank Rothman, chairman and CEO of MGM, to mobilize the entertainment community on behalf of the initiative, which Governor Brown ultimately signed into law.
Under the leadership of Ms. Goldberg, a 24-member advisory council, chaired by Los Angeles cultural leader Joan Newberg and consisting of legislative, arts and industry leaders, was appointed by the California Arts Council and the State Board of Education. The council’s charge was to explore the cause of the talent drain and to recommend statewide educational opportunities. The council discovered that many of California's most talented young artists and entertainers were leaving the state to attend arts training programs in New York, North Carolina, Michigan and other states and staying on to live and work there.
The work of the committee culminated on September 28, 1985, when Governor George Deukmejian signed the bill, authored by State Senator John Garamendi, that created the California State Summer School for the Arts. According to the legislature, the major objectives in establishing the school were:
- To enable artistically gifted and talented students, broadly representative of the socioeconomic and ethnic diversity of the state, to receive intensive training in the arts through a multidisciplinary program;
- To provide a training ground for future artists who may wish to study and practice the arts or to pursue careers in the major performing arts companies and the commercial and fine arts institutions in California; and
- To establish a model for partnership between the public and private sectors.
CSSSA‘s first summer session, in 1987, proved so popular and successful that Governor Deukmejian signed follow-up legislation making CSSSA a permanent program of the state in September 1990. Two years later, Governor Pete Wilson signed legislation allowing the school to accept a limited number of students from outside California, making it an international program.