Since 1986, Emerson College has offered a semester-long program in Los Angeles built around professional internships. The roots of the ELA program were established in the early ’80s when professors from Boston-based Emerson began to take students to LA for various productions, seminars, and learning opportunities.

Among those professors was Gregory Payne, associate professor of the Department of Communication Studies. A speechwriter for former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Payne brought students to Los Angeles to do internships related to the California’s 1986 gubernatorial campaign. According to Payne, 15 students participated in the LA seminar. 

Following the seminar, the then-Emerson College president, Alan Koenig, asked Payne and others to help develop a program in Los Angeles. The semester-long program included classes with subjects focusing on politics, journalism, and television production.

Koenig’s successor as president, John Zacharis, was a huge supporter in expanding the program. With strong support from the Visual and Media Arts Department and alumni such as Vin di Bona ’66, H’94 and Gary Grossman ’70, the program grew. The program was housed in rented space in Burbank and the types of classes offered and the internship experiences available expanded.

A Permanent Home

A strategic planning initiative led by President Jackie Liebergott in 2004 led to the vision to create a permanent home in Los Angeles. After exploring a variety of options, Emerson College purchased land in Hollywood in 2008 at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Gordon Street, and began plans to substantially expand the program by creating a magnificent mixed-use academic building that would include a residence hall, classrooms, and retail spaces. President Liebergott and the Board of Trustees retained renowned architect Thom Mayne and his firm, Morphosis, to design the new building. Construction began in early 2012 and the first students moved on Sunday, January 12, 2014. In the interim, Kevin S. Bright ’76, H’11 was hired as ELA’s founding executive director in July 2013 and orchestrated a superb opening gala on March 8, 2014 attended by more than 500 guests, including LA Mayor Eric Garcetti; alumni Norman Lear ’44, Max Mutchnick ’87, H’13, Jeffrey Greenhawt ’68, and Maria Menounos ’00; and Emerson parents Tom Bergeron P’12, Daniel H. Black P’07, and Larry David P’16, among many others. During the celebration, the Board of Trustees named the 5th floor terrace in honor of Jackie Liebergott in recognition of her leadership in creating ELA.

The Los Angeles program enrolls more than 200 students for an internship course during the fall and spring terms. Since its inception, thousands of students have participated in the LA program with concurrent professional internships at television and film studios, music companies, media outlets, marketing agencies, and related enterprises.

With a permanent home in the heart of Hollywood, efforts are underway to help the program expand even more in the future so that Emerson students, alumni, and individuals in LA and worldwide can enjoy the award-winning facility.