Arts camp a community effort

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 7, 2014

Two goldfish stare goggle-eyed from a bubbles-and-blue canvas. Beside them grins their creator, budding artist Jessica Jensen, a rising seventh-grader at Salisbury Academy. In the background more pictures of sea creatures decorate the room and paper jellyfish bob gently.
Jessica was one of about 60 children participating in the summer arts camp “Wake Up Leonardo!” July 21-25 at the Center for Faith & the Arts inside Haven Lutheran Church.
Over the course of the week, rising first- through eighth-grade students were instructed by local artists in performing and visual arts. Sessions lasted from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., including snacks and reflections time, with lunch until 1 p.m.. Each day the campers were guided through a program designed to enhance self-discovery through hands-on art experiences and reflection.
“Wake Up Leonardo!” was initially created in 2012 by the Center for the Faith & the Arts. The 2014 edition marked its third year running, and was a roaring success with campers, staff and parents alike.
“It was inspirational,” said Program Director Susanna Hollingsworth.
Like many things worth doing, “Wake Up Leonardo!” is largely a labor of love. Both parents and public school teachers served on the planning committee. This summer there were more than 30 volunteers/instructors, enough that each class had four adults helping the children.
The camp counselors included summer interns on loan from Lee Street Theatre of downtown Salisbury. These four hard-working Catawba College students not only were invaluable to the camp itself, said Hollingsworth, but were helpful from the planning stages onward.
“They were a lifesaver!” she said. “We owe a great deal of thanks to Lee Street Theatre. The interns understood our mission and worked very well with the kids.”
That kind of dedication and giving of self was standard for all the staff.
And the camp sponsors. Projection equipment for the Friday night family gathering was supplied by Mike Miller, of Miller Davis Studios. Another promoter was the Salisbury Art Station, and owner Jessica Buckwalter also acted as arts instructor.
The camp was made possible by financial support from Haven Lutheran Church, St. Mark’s Benevolent Fund, St. John’s Lutheran Church, the Rowan Arts Council and the Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation. Snacks and lunch were provided daily by the Rowan-Salisbury School system, while Cheerwine provided drinks.
“Haven sent volunteers to help us and is so generous to let us use their whole building the week of camp,” said Hollingsworth. “I love their pastor, Ed Harper. Their building manager and council president, Billy Beck, is always around to do whatever will help us most. They are amazing.”
In addition, county commissioner hopeful Judy Klusman contributed a fresh fruit and vegetable snack every day, preparing and serving the snacks herself.
“Judy felt strongly about the need to do so,” Hollingsworth said.
She went on to describe how, during one of these snack times, a child looked with curiosity at the cherries before him — he’d never eaten them before. Yet, encouraged, he gave a nibble. And:
“I love it!” he said before wolfing another cherry.
In previous years campers selected either a visual or performing arts focus, choosing between what were essentially two parallel camps. Campers had several short classes with their instructors each day. This year brought major changes.
To begin with, the division between the visual and performing arts was removed. Each camper had the opportunity for direct experience with nine different art forms:
• Photography with David Lamanno.
• Theater and costuming with Alison Veros Bird
• Dance with Yolanda Butler
• Printmaking with Sandy Borre
• Instrument Making with Crystle Lineberger
• Rhythm with Matt Church
• Voice with Allijah Motika and Alden Wright
• Fine Art with Jessica Buckwalter
Junior high students also participated in a photo development class, while elementary school students enjoyed an additional session of fine art with “Miss Jess.”
Instead of a series of classes, each child had two longer sessions a day, which allowed for the building of relationships with their instructors. This format also gave the campers a chance to experience a sampling of art forms, with the idea that each child would be able to find at least one which they could do well. For many children the camp provided their first experience in a particular art form — perhaps opening a door into a pastime to be enjoyed all their lives.
Teachers often collaborated. Efforts were made to integrate the visual and performing arts, for example, with campers crafting a musical instrument that would be used by them later in the week during rhythm class.
Another major change involved the transition periods at the beginning and end of the day. This year, morning drop-off occurred at the front of the church. After lunch, in a move inspired by schools in the community, the children were gathered in one room to wait for pick-up. When a family member drove up, counselors communicated by radio and brought out the requested child. The results were much smoother, orderly and safe.
In previous years, camp culminated on Friday night with gallery showings for the students in the visual arts focus and stage performances for those on the more active track. But, noted Hollingsworth, the system could be improved: work from the galleries often went uncollected, and there had to be a easier way to hold the wrap-celebration without the pressure of a performance.
This year, the Friday night gathering was simplified. Instead of art galleries and stage performances, the families gathered upstairs in the church to watch a six-minute slide show of the camp prepared by theater assistant Lindsay Veros. (There was standing room only for the presentation.) Then the families were invited to one of four tables at which they could talk with their child’s counselor and pick up their child’s collected instruments and artwork. Afterward came cake and lemonade for everyone. And who doesn’t love cake and lemonade?
In the words of Hollingsworth, the entire evening was “short and sweet.” The Friday night gathering became “not about the performances but about the process,” she said. There was no pressure, no crowding, nothing left behind … and everyone went home happy.
This all meshed with the camp ideal of art not for art’s sake but art for the soul’s sake. Yes, the campers were there to experience art, but the inner goals for the camp were that the children be kind to each other, try something new and learn about themselves.
The core of the camp, Hollingsworth said, was the use of reflection journals. This was new.
“Our planning committee wanted more reflection time for the kids,” she said, and went on to explain the process:
After classes each day 20 minutes were set aside during which the children were encouraged to reflect on themselves as an artist and the role that art plays in their lives. Each sequential day held a theme — Me, Family, Community, Universe — culminating in Friday’s reflection of “I Am Leonardo,” which linked all the themes of the previous days into a whole.
So many changes. And the response? Happiness.
“The kids were very happy and dancing in the halls,” Hollingsworth said.
She reported that many parents approached her to say how much their child loved doing new things, how they connected with their teachers, how they came home well fed and relaxed. Others shared that their children told them it was the best camp they attended this summer.
Several of the volunteers wanted to come back and help in 2015.
But the best thing she heard all week, the director said, was how a shy middle-school-aged boy had a late morning appointment one day and yet insisted on returning to camp for lunch “because he loved being there.”
Word from other campers was equally rosy.
“This camp was a unique experience for me,” said Alex Blumenthal, a rising sixth-grader at Knox Middle School. “I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely come back next summer.”
Said Phoebe Hollingsworth: “My friends and I had no idea that camp would be this cool and fun.”
A workshop for high-school aged artists is being considered for the coming winter holidays.
For any questions or to learn more about the program, contact the Center for Faith & the Arts at 704-647-0999 or visit the center’s website Center for Faith & the Arts is located in the lower level of Haven Lutheran Church, 207 W. Harrison St.