Budding Picassos and Pavarottis Flourish at Local Camps for Kids

By Amy De La Hunt - Photo by Jeane Vogel Photography

Styling: Amy De La Hunt - Photo by Jeane Vogel Photography

Photography: Amy De La Hunt - Photo by Jeane Vogel Photography

May 31, 2005

Watching a child’s creativity blossom is one of the perks of parenthood, and as schools de-emphasize the arts curriculum, summer opportunities to introduce children to the arts become all the more valuable.

We’re not talking run-of-the-mill craft-making to get kids out of the house. The best camps for beginners are designed to help kids truly appreciate the creative processes and techniques that go into art, encouraging their attempts without pressuring them to achieve masterpieces. Often the camps listed here have more intensive programs for advanced students and teens. And mindful of parents’ needs, many have started to offer before- and after-hours care.

For children who are just getting their feet wet, choose a program with a broad focus. For example, the Art Camps at Laumeier Sculpture Park (www.laumeier.org) involve many media and styles, said Jennifer Duncan, deputy director for operations. Students study the artists at the park and learn how they created their pieces. Then they get the chance to try something similar in clay, sculpture, printmaking and other media.

“The setting itself is perfect,” she said. “They’re outdoors in the woods and surrounded by giant sculptures.” And the hike to a nearby pool adds to the sense of freedom. Duncan’s own 11-year-old son has enjoyed the camps; he’s one of many repeat customers. She also overhears campers’ enthusiasm as they talk authoritatively about the sculptures when their parents pick them up.

Likewise, Executive Director Stacey Morse can give a personal testimonial for Chesterfield Arts’ programs (www.chesterfieldarts.org). The Art Sampler is a general camp, and students can go on to other skill-based classes. Her two children are veteran campers, and “they love anything arts-related,” she said. That’s not surprising considering Morse and her husband are both artists themselves. “My son [True, age 7] even helped teach an origami class,” she said. “We introduced him to origami when he was 6, and he just took off with it.”

For children like him who have developed a taste for a particular genre, there are many specialized programs. Craft Alliance (www.craftalliance.org) offers Summer Studios, a collection of half-day, hands-on camps. The small class size means the artists can instruct children of all experience levels. Even 4-year-old “little bitty guys” who’re still working on their motor skills can attend themed classes, said Luanne Rimel, senior director for education and exhibition programs. Older students can “spin mud” on the pottery wheel or “work with fire and torches” to blow glass.

The giant in summer arts camps is COCA (www.cocastl.org), with more than 150 offerings. Listing the categories wouldn’t begin to capture the innovative flavor of the full- and half-day camps. “We try to add programs that match what kids are doing,” said Virginia O’Brien, director of marketing. That means classes like “The Chocolate Factory,” where students produce a play and learn to make chocolate. Young devotees of “The Lord of the Rings” are welcome, as are fans of Manga-style Japanese anime or aspiring rappers.

O’Brien said musical theater is always extremely popular, and COCA pairs with local performing companies for intensive lessons in dancing, singing and acting. But where do you start if your child isn’t even sure he’ll be comfortable on stage?

Perhaps with the weeklong Create A Play Theatre Camps at Piwacket Theatre for Children (www.piwacket.com). Managing Director Liz Reeves said stage fright isn’t a problem there. “Never! In five years I’ve never seen it,” she said. In fact, her own 7-year-old daughter Kate doesn’t like a lot of pressure. But after two years of camping, Reeves said, Kate shone as Rosie the Pirate because the role combined individual lines and group singing.

At the Circus Day Foundation’s Circus Performance Camps (pictured above, www.circusday.org), which are part of the City Museum’s summer camps, beginning students tackle a variety of skills like juggling and acrobatics. “These are performance camps because we think it’s important not only to learn a skill but to present it in front of an audience,” said Jessica Hentoff, the artistic/executive director. Her philosophy is that everyone can do something, even if it’s as simple as “balancing a feather on your hand.”

The summer camps at Metro Theater Company (www.metrotheatercompany.org) make kids feel comfortable because the focus is on the process, not on who’s the most talented, said Emily Petkewich, Metro’s education director. The 6- to 15-year-olds attending ArtsINTERSection learn with local artists of all ages and backgrounds, and at the end there’s a “celebration” rather than a performance.

Campers at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (www.opera-stl.org) summer program for ages 9 to 12 don’t even need to be able to play music or sing. “The whole point of the camp is to have fun with opera,” said Allison Felter, director of education. Students will work within the framework of Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” to write words, set them to music and build costumes and sets. They’ll also interact with singers from the theater’s production of that opera, take backstage tours and see the production.

But if your youngster doesn’t necessarily want to attend camp, you can introduce creativity into summer vacation in other ways. The Magic House-St. Louis Children’s Museum (www.magichouse.org) has two notable exhibits: “Sandcastle Beach” (June 6 to Aug. 7), with a 75-ton sandcastle and all the accoutrements of a real beach, and “Arthur’s World” (June 18 to Oct. 2), an interactive environment and participatory theater. Two one-day options are Maritz Free Family Day June 4 at the Contemporary Art Museum (www.contemporarystl.org) and Chesterfield Arts’ Art in the Park on June 25 in Faust Park.

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