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Walnut Hill School for the Arts

Expanding Our Auxiliary Programs: Meet Chris Ridolfi

Walnut Hill welcomed many new faculty and staff to our community during the past few months, including our new Director of Auxiliary Programs, Chris Ridolfi. Chris started his work here on the Hill on July 1, and has spent the summer months working with the administration to develop a plan to expand Walnut Hill’s revenue outside of tuition. Although auxiliary programs have always existed at Walnut Hill—for example, our long-running Summer Arts Programs—we are looking forward to the expansion and innovation that will come with the addition of this new dedicated position on campus. Chris was kind enough to sit down with us this month to give us the inside scoop on what we can expect for the future of auxiliary programs. But first: Who is Chris Ridolfi?

Chris has had a unique career trajectory, to say the least. He entered Berklee College of Music with dreams of being a “rock star,” but his parents advised him to study music education so that he would have something to fall back on. After graduating, Chris began student teaching at his old high school, in addition to coaching its volleyball team. His budding music career took a detour when by chance he met the head volleyball coach for Boston College, who hired him on the spot to be her assistant. Chris would go on to coach for BC, Harvard, and Holy Cross, spending 18 years in the world of college sports. After meeting his wife at Holy Cross and starting a family, he finally got out of athletics and became the Director of Extended Programs at the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island. Despite not being an official arts school, Wheeler was founded by an artist and has a heavy arts influence to this day. After a stint as Director of Auxiliary Programs at the Fay School in Southborough, Massachusetts, our position opened up and he jumped at the chance to be back in an arts environment. As Chris describes it: “This is my full package.” He sees his hiring at Walnut Hill as a “full circle” moment in his career. Chris feels particularly encouraged by Antonio Viva’s leadership and vision, as well as the sense of “buy-in” he feels from all his friendly colleagues. “It’s been one big cooperative process so far.”

Chris shared with us that his goal is to develop new mission-based programs as a benefit to our current Walnuts as well as local students who attend other schools. These programs will introduce our School, facilities, teachers, and philosophy to people who otherwise wouldn’t be searching for us. He hopes to build on the successful summer programs that are already established, and add new initiatives during the school year. Chris saw his midsummer start date as the perfect introduction to Walnut Hill, since “the best way to learn about what’s already here is to see it in action.” He spent his first several weeks on campus observing the ins and outs of our existing programs, and began to fully understand just how much Summer Theater and Summer Dance are “valuable pieces” of Walnut Hill as a whole. Chris would like to eventually have representation from all five arts majors during the summer, most likely including one-week residential intensives in addition to our existing multi-week programs.

This coming spring, Chris plans to roll out auxiliary programming in all arts areas, which can eventually be expanded into the summer months. This might include Saturday Studios, an introductory program for middle school–age kids, and Saturday School, a similar concept for high schoolers that would also cover additional relevant topics for that age, such as audition prep and portfolio work. These ideas are still in development, and Chris emphasized that he doesn’t want to rush the process, but instead build something sustainable that measures up to the quality that people expect from Walnut Hill. He hopes to use as many Walnut Hill faculty members as possible, in addition to outside hires who will be carefully selected to match the expertise and standards of our current instructors.

With the input and support of the arts heads and Director of Artistic Studies Niki Conraths, Chris looks forward to getting the ball rolling on these exciting initiatives. We can’t wait to see what he accomplishes!

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