Independent Schools Association of the Southwest

Festival History

Inspired by a love of the arts, a few administrators and teachers from Casady School, Holland Hall and Wichita Collegiate had a dream to bring students together to participate in an inter-school Fine Arts presentation.

Honoring the Past - Celebrating the Future
"50 Years of Catching Dreams"

It began as a dream. Inspired by the love of the arts, a group of administrators and teachers from Casady, Holland Hall, and Wichita Collegiate had a vision to bring students together to participate in a gathering to exhibit their talents. Dr. Robert Woolsey, Headmaster of Casady School from 1963-1980, knew that ISAS schools had unquestionably high standards and impressive levels of academics. Sports were flourishing nicely through the Southwest Preparatory Conference. But, as one who loved the arts, Dr. Woolsey recognized that there was a need for more. According to a plaque posted at Greenhill School in Dallas, Dr. Woolsey felt that “…the arts, unlike sports, were not getting the attention they so aptly deserved. And, unlike sports, the emphasis for those artists was on performance, not winning a competition.”

Dr. Woolsey admired the choir of Wichita Collegiate, which was directed by Betty Storms, the wife of Headmaster Randall Storms. The seeds of the festival were planted when the choirs of Casady School travelled to Wichita Collegiate in the spring of 1967 to perform a joint choral concert directed by Dr. Riney of Friends University.

Bert Moore, Headmaster of Holland Hall in Tulsa was another of Dr. Woolsey’s close colleagues who also shared the dream. Collectively, these visionaries, decided to have the three schools get together over the course of a weekend to share their talents and the talents of the students. The result of this agreement was the Festival of the Arts where students could participate in an inter-school fine arts presentation.

The inaugural ISAS Arts Festival was held in the fall of 1967 on November 17 and 18. Casady was the host with Wichita Collegiate and Holland Hall students participating in debate, one act plays, and art exhibits. The Festival culminated with all three schools joining together in a mass choir concert. According to David Rollo, Holland Hall Choir Director at this inaugural festival, the guest conductor was from Boston University. The mass choir performed "All People That on Earth do Dwell" by R.V. Williams accompanied by organ and brass.

Dr. Woolsey’s hope was that this event would serve as an inspirational learning experience for the Casady Community - students and teachers alike. But, the miracle of that first weekend is that all three schools found tremendous value in the exercise. Thus, the ISAS Arts Festival was born.

This number of participating schools grew by two in 1969 when Greenhill School and St. Mark’s School of Texas joined the celebration. These five founding members were instrumental in leading the way for continued growth to as many as 43 ISAS schools having participated in any given year. As the ISAS puts it, “The Festival has grown to be the nation’s premiere annual regional arts festival among independent schools."

It has garnered a reputation as an event that showcases excellence in the performing and visual arts in independent schools, and the ISAS Fine Arts Festival is the largest gathering of ISAS students on an annual basis. It is a celebration of sharing and learning.”

Telling the Story - A Festival of Sharing

In describing the ISAS Arts Festival, Wichita Collegiate wrote in its 50th anniversary book, “Every spring students meet and share the work they have done all year. They perform, they display artwork, they take workshops, they have coffeehouses and dances, they jam in outdoor spaces, and they rush from performance to performance.”

Remarkable Moments

“Some of the greatest pleasures of ISAS are the unplanned activities. Sitting on the grass, playing guitars and singing along, or playing Frisbee. Some students play impromptu softball or kickball while others dance freely on the outdoor stage. The major takeaways are always sharing the arts, making new friends and bonding with other students.” from Wichita Collegiate history

  • 1969 - Originating three schools were joined by Greenhill School and St. Mark’s School of Texas.
  • 1972 - The Hockaday School joined.
  • 1972 - The culminating joint choral at St. Mark’s was performed around the school’s Olympic sized swimming pool. “The acoustics were amazing, but the temperature was a bit warm and humid.”
  • 1974 - Coffee house was “born with a Friday evening event that saw the entire Festival listening to folk guitarists, stand up comedians, and singers in myriad styles - no one would leave. We were all entranced and felt like a big family.” Ed Long
  • 1974, 1983, 1992 - Hockaday offered a venue for water ballet. “Kinkaid’s water ballet improvisation was one of the hits of that Festival.” Ed Long

Sue Scott, former Casady Fine Arts Chair remembers, “At an early ISAS festival, there was often a big event held either on Friday or Saturday night. Often drum circles started the activities, but music, dance, and dramatic visual imagery were always a big part of festivities. At one of the Holland Hall ISAS Arts festivals, the big event featured swing dance music. As a highlight to the show, professional dancers demonstrated some of the more acrobatic moves. The outfits the dancers wore fit the part - broad/exaggerated shoulders on zoot suits in bright, captivating colors. It was impossible not to catch the fever!

Reflections from Lisa Larragoite, Casady Class of 1984
ISAS Memories by Lisa Larragoite, Casady Class of 1984 and Young Artists of America at Strathmore, said, “The two shows performed at ISAS that made the greatest impressions on me were in the early eighties… Godspell and Pippin. Both were St. Mark’s and Hockaday, I believe. I especially remember Godspell. It was the best high school production I'd ever seen up to that point. It looked like something you'd see at Lyric Theatre. The players were fully engaged in their characters. Every last performer on that stage was all in, even those in the chorus. It made me want to be bolder in my own performances and not be so afraid of embarrassing myself or of what other people thought of my performance.”

Lisa continued, “The one performance I remember being in the most was in 1984, when Casady Players did Starting Here, Starting Now, and I had to step in as a substitute and sing ‘What About Today,’ with 30 minutes notice. I volunteered to do it, so I had no one to blame but myself, but as the song started, I remember wanting to kick myself for agreeing to do it. But it was one of the biggest growth moments of my life. For the first time, I realized that I could ‘wing it.’ It helps me even today with public speaking. If I get nervous, I just remember that moment.

“But my favorite part of ISAS was the bus ride. I remember coming back from Houston on a never-ending ride and singing Beatles songs with everyone!”

Reflections from Wichita Collegiate Administrator
In 2000 at Greenhill School in Dallas, an administrator from Wichita Collegiate overheard two girls discussing their performance. One said to the other, "I would go to high school all over again if I could sing at that school.”

Reflections from Midge Woolsey, Casady Class of 1973
Midge Woolsey, Casady Class of 1973 and WNET/WQXR Public Radio and Television host/producer shared, “For many of us who were lucky enough to participate in the ISAS Arts Festivals, the inspiration has lasted a lifetime. I have witnessed how powerful it is when arts lovers get together to create, experiment, learn from and support one another. It’s a concept that works no matter where you are or what you are trying to accomplish.”