Performing Arts Boarding School Opens in Iowa City

ICON Arts Academy will open for the 2023-2024 school year, drawing students from around the country to Iowa City


A new performing arts boarding school is opening in downtown Iowa City, allowing young artists from across the country to expand their creative interests.

ICON Arts Academy, located at 123 N. Linn St., will be the first of its kind in Iowa and joins a limited number of similar programs in the Midwest, including Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and Perpich Arts High School in Minnesota.

Academy founders Leslie Nolte and Beth Brown worked together in 2012 to open Performing Arts Preschool, an arts-focused early childhood program in Iowa City.

“It was like our baby who really kicked off the idea of ​​high school 10 years ago,” Nolte said.

Nolte, from the James Theater in downtown Iowa City. is also the founder and artistic director of Nolte Academy, a dance school located in Coralville.

Nolte will act as Executive and Artistic Director of ICON.

The academy will hold auditions in New York; city ​​of Iowa; Saint Louis; Austin, TX; Winstom-Salem, North Carolina; Monks; Omaha, Nebraska; and Denver in January and February. Virtual auditions will be available for students in the Music Composition and Design and Production majors.

While the academy hopes to offer admission to all levels of high school, the inaugural class of 2023-2024 will consist of 150 students in grades 9, 10 and 11.

Brown, an adjunct professor at the University of Iowa College of Education, will serve as ICON’s director of curriculum and instruction.

Brown has over 30 years of experience designing children’s programs.

ICON will provide students ages 14-19 over 20 hours of intensive arts education each week. Students will choose a concentration to pursue in programs such as dance, theater arts, music, design, and production. An apartment-style co-op with chaperones less than three blocks from the school will be available for students who cannot travel from home.

Brown said she plans to have project-based, interdisciplinary education at the academy that will help students learn to communicate their understanding of topics, justify their decisions, collaborate with others, think critically and to reflect on their work.

The project-based learning environment will provide students with an authentic experience of what it’s like to be a true artist through expert guidance, she said.

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Brown added that students studying different disciplines will work in small groups on projects about twice a week.

“We really want our students to have the opportunity to learn skills that will help them when they enter an artistic field – if that’s what they want to do – but also end up learning many skills that are essential in this moment in any type of endeavor that you do in the post-high school world,” Brown said.

While ICON will primarily focus its studies on the arts, the academy is partnering with the Iowa City Community School District to give students online access to core academics during the school day. ICON students will be able to connect with learning coaches in residence halls and on the academy campus for academic support.

Nolte said it’s important to make sure students have a balanced academic schedule.

“We need [students] to get academics,” Nolte said. “But we think you can get it, if you choose everything you need in high school in those core subjects at the fantastic public schools in Iowa City, but spend more hours a day on your job and what you love and learn in a different way. ”

American roots musician David Zollo of David Zollo & The Body Electric is one of the ICON audition panelists. Zollo said he’s excited to see what the academy will bring to his hometown of Iowa City.

“I think arts education in America tends to get overlooked,” Zollo said. “If a young person wants to be an artist, it’s something they want to try to pursue as a vocation, there’s not much to offer them…I think having an interdisciplinary education engaged by and with artists and professional teachers that there is a lot to be gained.”

Nolte said she hopes that by providing a space to pursue art, the academy can help others across Iowa City and around the world.

“I believe the arts improve lives,” Nolte said. “Learning the arts, seeing the arts, participating in the arts – it has enhanced my life, and I think it should be a piece of everyone’s heart and soul.”