Grace Art Camp moves the artist in children with a Latin rhythm
Grace Art Camp Administrator Sharon Loomis-Malin and Grace Institute Organizing Director and Grace Art Camp Creative Director Sandra Bright share their perspectives on how – and why – artists are working with children at the 4th annual camp.
First of all, what is Grace Art Camp?
It’s a story-based arts camp for children in preschool through age 11. Children work with professional artists for a full week, exploring different artistic disciplines – visual arts, textiles, drama, dance and music. The artists emphasize the creative process and collaboration, and children actually experience what it’s like to work creatively in a collaborative community. Because our curriculum is story-centered, this exploration also occurs in the cultural context of the chosen folktales. Sharing experiences and personal interpretations of the story are an important part of each day.
What is special about this fourth year of camp?
This year, the young artists are enjoying The Lizard and the Sun, a Mexican story of valiant persistence and The Dancing Turtle, the Brazilian tale of a clever, flute-playing, dancing turtle who uses talent and wit to escape from the stewpot. The campers learned how to stitch molas, dance to the Mexican Hat Dance, creep like a lizard, design their own Mayan-style symbols, paint with yarn, play their own handmade rainsticks and how to portray a difficult choice.
Because we are in our fourth year, campers are enjoying improvements that have been made each year. The Camp continues to undergo its own exciting – and very healthy – creative process. For example, in response to almost overwhelming demand, we expanded to include a third week of studio art for older children (ages 9 to 14). It allows us to serve more children, while providing the opportunity to spend a full week exploring one discipline in greater depth.
Tell us more about the emphasis on creativity…
Creativity is something wonderful that happens – unexpectedly – and, you recognize it when it happens. It’s important not to have a predetermined outcome. Getting too tied up in producing a product can stifle the creative process. Creativity should not be rated, graded or valued by product. Everyone is artistic. Everyone is creative. In some it just lies dormant. In others, it is yet to be discovered.
We must help children develop individual creativity because it is an important part of the whole person a child is becoming. The body is the physical form of a whole person; creativity is an intrinsic part of the spiritual form. We must nurture the creative spirit to ensure development of the whole person.
What makes the Grace Art Camp experience unique?
Its greatest strength is the collaboration of this community of artists, which becomes a significant part of the camp experience. For example children in textiles enjoyed making ponchos for drama’s sock puppets. Then dance said, “we need a lizard tail”. “How long?” was the response.
We honor the artist. The studio teachers are all first rate artists – and each is also gifted with the ability to teach. All have their own studios, bands or businesses. We are fortunate to have an amazing 95% staff return this year – one even came from New York just for these two weeks. They say it is as inspiring for artists as it is for the campers.
What about the new studio experience?
This year 70% of the older students registered for the third week have been to Grace Art Camp at least once. After exposure to all of the various art forms, their appetites have been whetted, and they are ready to sink their teeth into an area of interest – textiles, visual arts or drama. Children in Grace Art Camp also choose areas of interest, and they may concentrate on one or two areas. Having the choice is empowering.
How is the camp related to the spiritual mission of Grace Memorial?
Collectively, as opposed to individually, Grace Art Camp emphasizes the development of relationships between children, counselors and teachers. The campers also learn about collaboration - how to show kindness, how to encourage others, how to honor each other’s gifts and space. Just ask any camper to sing “The Four Rs of Community”. We have three assemblies each day, which create “family” - a loving, respectful and supportive community. This is similar to what a church does.
How are Grace Memorial members involved in Grace Art Camp?
The camp was founded by Grace Memorial four years ago through its Grace Institute project and continues to involve a good combination of parish members and guest artists. The camp staff has become an ongoing extended community that remains connected to Grace Memorial.
Originally, Grace Art Camp was founded in response to the sweeping cuts in school arts programs, particularly for children from inner Northeast neighborhoods. We want to make sure ALL children have the opportunity to experience the arts. This year, approximately 20% of the campers attend on scholarships, which are funded by donations.
How many children are involved?
We have expanded again this year, and welcomed more than 100 children at camp each week.
What is a typical day at camp like?
As children arrive, we gather in color groups, getting to know each other. The storyteller tells the next part of the week’s folktale. We sing songs about camp and community, adding songs and dances about the story as the week goes on. The artists present and explain the daily projects. Campers choose their day’s activities according to their interests. On the first day, all students rotate through all of the disciplines. They see what’s offered and learn how to make informed choices.
What are some of your favorite scenes from this year’s camp?
The visit from the tortoise caused some considerable excitement. The kids loved it. You could say it was a live model.
We loved watching the teenagers from Ballet Folklorica de Woodburn teach our children basic rhythm and steps from Mexican folk dances – it was a perfect combination of textiles (everyone wanted to touch their costumes), music and dance.
Then for our Friday night Fiesta, Grace Memorial was just an amazing place to be! There was a large wedding rehearsal in the Church, a special barbecue for about 60 guests being prepared and served by our Food Ministry’s Friday Feed volunteers, and our Grace Art Camp evening program, featuring performances and presentations from the campers, open studios and a professional Mariachi band.
[back to history]